The four remaining GOP candidates battled it out one more time on the debate stage. Five days before the important Florida primary, this was a fascinating and spirited debate. It was the complete opposite of Monday’s snoozefest from NBC. There were several interesting exchanges between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Who got the better of them? And did that leave room for someone else to seize the day?
Here’s a look at how each candidate fared, follow by winners and losers at the bottom:
Newt Gingrich: The former House Speaker needed a good performance. He did not get it. This was probably Gingrich’s worst debate performance. He took on moderator Wolf Blitzer and instead of winning the crowd, actually looked petty. Even worse, Gingrich lost a number of his exchanges to Mitt Romney. Gingrich almost had a Rick Perry-esque “heartless” moment when discussing illegal immigration.
Newt looked like a hypocrite when attacking Romney for having investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when Gingrich also made investments in Fannie and Freddie.
His talk of colonizing the moon made him look like a dreamer instead of a serious leader. Gingrich’s best moment came from a question about the Palestine-Israel situation, but that was not enough to salvage a surprisingly bad night.
Ron Paul: This was one of Paul’s best debates. He was upbeat, funny and landed some good shots at Gingrich and Romney. He was not given a chance to respond to the Israel-Palestine question, and considering Florida’s heavy Jewish population, that was probably a good thing for the libertarian icon. Paul capably handled the age and health question by challenging the other candidates to a 25-mile bike ride, then jokingly deriding Wolf Blitzer for age discrimination. The Texas congressman did very well.
Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor shined in his attacks on Gingrich. His righteous indignation toward Newt in response to being called “anti-immigrant” was spot on. Romney also defended his financial success capably, which he has not done in previous debates.
However, there were a couple of glaring errors. Romney’s campaign is running a radio ad on Hispanic radio claiming Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto”. Romney claimed he had not heard the ad. But Romney’s voice, as required by law, clearly says at the end of the ad, “I am Mitt Romney. I am running for President and I approve this message.”
Later, Romney was destroyed by Rick Santorum during a back-and-forth over RomneyCare. He tried his best to defend it but the more Romney talked, the more ammunition he gave to Santorum.
At times, Mitt Romney reminded me a daredevil professional wrestler who risks his own body to take out an opponent. Yeah, the move looked cool and you hurt the other guy, but how much damage did you do to yourself? (And yes, I know wrestling is staged. So are presidential debates, as Larry Hagman so aptly stated in “Primary Colors”.) Overall, Romney had a mixed night, but he certainly did better than Gingrich, which is key for him.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator repeatedly scored in this debate. He looked like the grown up on the stage when saying, “You guys should leave that alone and talk about the issues.” That was at the close of a segment, right before a commercial break, so that’s the line viewers were left with. It was a good one.
Santorum simple dismantled Mitt Romney on health care. He set a trap for the GOP frontrunner and Romney kept walking into it. During their argument, you could see a sly grin coming across Santorum’s face. He got Romney to keep digging a deeper hole.
Santorum scored early when mentioning his 93-year old grandmother, gave a terrific answer about his wife Karen, and got to close out the debate with jabs at both Gingrich and Romney. That was the very end of the broadcast and they were not given a chance to respond. Santorum desperately needs a game changer to remain competitive in the race. I’m not sure if this debate provided it, but it was certainly a very strong performance.
Winner: Rick Santorum.
Loser: Newt Gingrich. I think this performance solidified that he will lose the Florida primary.
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