The first post-Iowa Caucus debate was expected to be a lively affair, but was marred with some of the worst moderating since the Des Moines Register’s Carolyn Washburn debacle of 2007. The economy and jobs is the top issue on the minds of voters, but did not come up until 75 minutes into the debate. Some of the questions were pointless and even bizarre, while ABC’s Diane Sawyer sounded like she was doing a Ben Stein impersonation from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.
However, there were some interesting exchanges and for the first time Rick Santorum received a lot of the spotlight. Here is a look at how each candidate fared, in alphabetical order, followed by overall winners and losers at the bottom:
Newt Gingrich: It was believed that the former House Speaker would go heavily on the offensive against Mitt Romney, but his most memorable vitriol was aimed at Ron Paul and the media. Gingrich smacked down the moderators for trying to paint the GOP field as bigots on gay marriage, while capably showing the bigotry of the Obama administration against the Catholic faith. However, Gingrich seemed to receive less time than usual and kind of faded into the background. He had a good debate, but nothing to change his place in the race.
Jon Huntsman: He has staked everything on New Hampshire. That means he will soon be out of the race, thankfully.
Ron Paul: The libertarian icon went on the attack early against Rick Santorum and he paid the price for it. Santorum rebutted every Paul charge and left the Texas congressman staggered. Later, he was egged into supporting his claim that Gingrich is a “chickenhawk”. Paul didn’t back down, but Gingrich fired back, saying Paul “has a long history of saying things that are false and inaccurate”. Paul had one good comeback on Gingrich, pointing out he was drafted despite being a married father of two children. Paul also came under attack from Rick Perry, getting labeled a hypocrite for his stance on earmarks. In all, it was not a good night Ron Paul.
Rick Perry: The Texas governor was practically non-existent in this debate. He tried to paint himself as the Washington outsider and did fine when he had the opportunity, but overall Perry was little more than a bystander.
Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor capably fended off the attacks that came his way and continually pivoted the conversation back to President Obama’s failed policies. Romney was able to stay out of most of the bickering, which is exactly what he wants to do. Romney had a good debate performance.
Rick Santorum: The surging candidate seemed to relish his time in the spotlight. He smacked down Ron Paul more than once. A funny moment occurred when Paul was criticizing Santorum and a buzzer accidentally went off. Santorum said, “That means you’re not telling the truth.” It was smart to jump in and a great line. Santorum answered every charge from Paul very well and tied Paul to liberal moneyman George Soros. He bodyslammed Paul later on foreign policy. Santorum got a few jabs in on Mitt Romney as well, but failed to land any substantial shots. Overall, it was a good night for Rick Santorum.
Overall Winners: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, which means they solidified their standing as the top two contenders.
Overall Losers: Ron Paul and ABC. Paul lost his verbal spats with Santorum, Gingrich and Perry. As for ABC, some of the questions were ridiculous, the moderating was drab and the close to the debate was awkward and poorly done. This was one of the worst debate productions of this campaign.
On the bright side, there is another one Sunday morning, during the “Meet the Press” timeslot.
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