Friday, January 20, 2012

S.C. debate No. 2: Winners and losers

With one searing attack on media and CNN moderator John King, Newt Gingrich brought a raucous South Carolina crowd to its feet Thursday night and mitigated at least some of the damage from allegations that he once asked his second wife to participate in an open marriage.

Gingrich also denied those charges, and that two-part response will be the moment people remember from the South Carolina primary - and perhaps his campaign. For that, Gingrich was an obvious winner of Thursday night's debate in Charleston.

Rick Santorum might have actually had the better debate, but it's hard to win on points after someone else gets the first-round knockout. Santorum made clear policy contrasts between himself and his opponents all the way through his closing statement, and his plainspoken fret about Newt Gingrich's instability was something that surely had heads nodding across the state and country. A solid second place.

Mitt Romney had what might have been the worst of his debates. He inexplicably stumbled again when asked about releasing his tax returns, and he ineffectively tried to deflect questions about himself with criticism of President Barack Obama. Romney's best moment: Countering Gingrich's perpetual Ronald Reagan references by noting that in Reagan's diary, Gingrich was mentioned once - and it was unflattering.

Ron Paul was too often a bystander, in part because moderator King seemed to forget he was there (at one point the crowd had to verbally nudge King to include Paul in a question.) Paul escaped without having to talk about foreign policy, but he did little to make himself a factor Thursday or with Saturday's vote.

Gingrich, after that first moment, was at times subdued (for him), almost as if he worried about following up the opening blast with more passion. But he artfully let Romney trip over himself on taxes, and he finished with a strong closing argument about his leadership. It was a thoughtful bookend to that first, white-hot moment.

*The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says Santorum and Gingrich were the debate winners. Santorum "took the fight" to Romney and Gingrich, says Cillizza, and by doing so lumped the pair together as "ineffective change agents in voters' minds."

Romney gets a split decision from Cillizza, who thought the former governor found a good message by not apologizing for his wealth, but "fumbled around" releasing his tax returns. Ron Paul was the biggest loser of the four, says Cillizza, but partly because he was excluded too often.

*'s political expert Mark Halperin gives out his highest debate grade with an A+ to Gingrich, not only for the emotional surge at the top of the debate, but because he was "confident and engaged" all night.

Romney gets a B for being "self-possessed and upbeat" but not doing anything in the debate to slow Gingrich's momentum. Santorum gets a B for being steady, even and ultimately powerful. Paul gets a C-.

*Stephen Hayes of the conservative Weekly Standard also gives the nod to Gingrich, in part for what we thought might have been his better sound bite, on why he can effectively debate President Barack Obama on health care: “I can say: I was wrong and figured it out. You were wrong and you didn’t.”

Hayes, like the others, thought Santorum was forceful, although at times too much so. Romney, he thought, was off-balance in answering questions about his taxes.

*Wondering about those pesky facts? The Washington Post's solid Fact Checker goes over 15 debate claims. (Hint: No one emerges Pinocchio-free.)

Peter St. Onge


Garth Vader said...

You denigrate Paul "because he was left out" and yet your own paper leaves him out of 99% of its own coverage. Fortunately the people are catching on, as witnessed by the moment where they DEMANDED that John King give Paul the same opportunity to answer a question.

That was without the most significant moment of the entire debate season, yet look at how the media ignore it in contrast to the Newtgasm they had when Dough Boy went on a rant about killing people.

The media in this country are truly sickening.

cooldela1966 said...

The media loves Obama and covers his every move........except golf rounds and vacations.

Then the media treats Paul like he is the invisible man.

Who makes these type decisions within the media? Bigfoot?

Kingward said...

It was a bad night for King, the moderator, from the first volley on.

John said...

King should be permanently barred from ever moderating a debate again. His performance, from the first question, to killing the mike when an actual voter appeared to ask a question he didn't like was dispicable!

As a lifelong Conservative Republican, Ron Paul's foreign policy position scares me. He reminds me too much of the isolationists who would've willingly let Hitler win! If he were to win the nomination, I'd probably find myself forced to abstain from voting for the first time 34 years!

Garth Vader said...

John, please name the family member you'd most like to see killed in another undeclared, unconstitutional, unaffordable war.