The stage was reduced to only five candidates, so there was plenty of time and opportunities for each of them. That helped make this perhaps the liveliest of the 16 GOP presidential debates. It was fun to watch.
There was a lot of back and forth between the candidates, much of it aimed at frontrunner Mitt Romney. Then, we had Ron Paul, who flat out lied about his previous comments regarding Osama Bin Laden. It made for a very interesting night.
Here is a look at how each candidate fared, in alphabetical order by last name, with winners and losers at the bottom:
Newt Gingrich: This was the Newt that we loved in the previous debates, before he went negative against his fellow Republicans. Moderator Juan Williams practically put a question on a tee for Gingrich by challenging Newt on his “Obama is a food stamp president” line. The former House Speaker knocked it out of the park and brought a lot of the South Carolina crowd to its feet with his answer. It was phenomenal.
Gingrich also got the better of Mitt Romney in a couple of their exchanges. He did get some of his facts wrong regarding the social security system in Chile. It is mandatory. He said it was voluntary. Otherwise, this was a terrific night for Gingrich.
Ron Paul: The Texas congressman told a flat out lie when he was asked about comments he made last year WHO Radio about giving the order to kill Bin Laden. Paul said on Simon Conway’s show, three times, that he would not have given that order. He said during the debate that he never said that. Unfortunately for Ron Paul, there is videotape evidence. Watch it at the bottom of the page.
Paul then made it worse by saying we should have worked with Pakistan to get Bin Laden. Newt Gingrich took Paul apart for those comments, saying the Pakistanis were compliant in hiding Bin Laden. It was an awful moment for Paul and anyone except his diehard fans can see that. There were other problems, including an exchange with Santorum on gun rights that Paul lost. Overall, it was a terrible night for the libertarian icon.
Rick Perry: If Perry could erase his early debate performances, I think he would be near the top of the polls. The Texas governor was on his game in this debate. He started strong by demanding Mitt Romney release his tax returns and stayed on remained strong throughout. Perry jumped into the fray when the opportunities were given and the live crowd responded well. It was a good night for Perry.
Mitt Romney: This was probably the worst debate of the campaign for Mitt Romney. He was hit from all sides and several of the shots landed. Rick Santorum took Romney apart on felon voting rights. An attack by Romney’s super PAC was turned against him.
Romney’s challengers basically forced him into giving straight answers on voting rights, releasing his tax returns, and the truthfulness in super PAC ads. Romney had two choices. Neither option was good. He could give a straight answer or he could waffle. Pass the Aunt Jemima, because Mitt cooked up waffles throughout the debate. It was a bad night.
Rick Santorum: He was masterful in taking apart Mitt Romney for his super PAC’s attack on Santorum supporting voting rights for felons. Santorum took a negative for him and made Romney look like a waffler by turning the issue back on him. It was perhaps the roughest few minutes Romney has had in all 16 debates. Santorum also had a good exchange with Ron Paul late in the debate about gun rights, once again turning a negative ad into a positive.
Those were two strong and memorable moments, but Santorum largely disappeared in the background most of the rest of the time. It was a good night, but he needed a little bit more to change the dynamic of the race.
Overall Winner: Newt Gingrich. Perry and Santorum were strong, but it was Gingrich who shined throughout. The live crowd absolutely loved him and that makes a difference to the viewer watching at home. Gingrich needed a big night and got one.
Overall Losers: Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Paul lied about his Bin Laden comments, but still gave a horrible answer on the issue. He wants to be Commander-in-Chief, but would not have gone after Bin Laden in Pakistan unless the Pakistanis gave him permission. Absolutely inexcusable.
Romney has looked smooth in most of the debates. He did not in this one. The frontrunner was taken down a few notches.
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