Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on CNN was the last one before the Florida primary as well as the last one for almost a month. That made it critical for Newt Gingrich, the man whose candidacy has largely depended on success in debates to do well tonight. But instead of another triumph in which he was able to use attacks on the moderators and his rivals, Gingrich came out flat. While there is little doubt Rick Santorum did the best of any of the candidates tonight and Ron Paul had a few good jokes, the real winner was Mitt Romney, who attacked Gingrich relentlessly and with good effect.
Gingrich’s poor performance not only undermines his argument that he would trounce Barack Obama in debates but also squandered what might be his last chance to turn the momentum of the race around. Gingrich’s usual trick of turning on the moderator flopped. So did his attacks on Romney. Along with Gingrich, Romney took a pounding from Santorum but even that worked to his benefit. Any votes Santorum gains in Florida will be at Gingrich’s expense. The Jacksonville debate may have sealed Gingrich’s fate in Florida and perhaps the entire race.
The debate ends. Winners: Santorum and Romney. Loser: Gingrich. Paul: barely there.
On electability, Romney says the question is whether the US will become more like Europe or remain strong. Says he’s a DC outsider and a businessman and that’s what the American people will want. Gingrich says he won in 94 and that he’s running for his grandchildren and that only big ideas can win. Santorum calls out Romney and Gingrich on global warming “hoax” and the bank bailout. Says he’s the one who can win Reagan Democrats.
Question about faith prompts defense of religious freedom from Mitt and attack on anti-religious bigotry from Newt. His first moment where he’s giving the right what they want to hear. Santorum knocks it out of the park with answer on the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declearation of Independenc.e Constitution is the how of America, Declaration of Independence is the why. Declaration mentions the Creator and the rights that came from the Creator.
Puerto Rican statehood? Are they kidding? Santorum answers it’s their own choice.
Gingrich sees Romney’s support for Israel and attack on Palestinian leadership and raises him one move of the embassy to Jerusalem! Both gave strong answers denouncing Obama’s failures and putting the onus for the lack of peace directly on the Palestinians.
Newt Gingrich is striking back at a column by Elliott Abrams today, which revealed the former speaker had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan during the late 1980s. The publicized comments – which headlined the Drudge Report for hours today – were especially embarrassing for Gingrich because he’s been leveraging his allegedly close relationship with Reagan to rally conservative support. (See Pete Wehner’s earlier column here:)
According to Politico, Gingrich pushed back on the column this afternoon, claiming Nancy Reagan said, “Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt” at an event in 1995 [emphasis added]:
The overly-anticipated release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns raises a variety of questions which the country would do well to debate.
To begin with, why do candidates release tax returns? After all, it isn’t legally required – not for presidential candidates nor for sitting presidents. Tax returns are a private matter, and the IRS is barred from making them public. Legally, presidential candidates, sitting presidents, and representatives need file only a financial disclosure report about their assets.
Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their last such forum before the Florida primary.
Matt Drudge links to several stories and videos (see here, here, here and here) highlighting Newt Gingrich’s past criticisms of President Reagan. This line of attack has clearly enraged Gingrich, who argues that he was certainly more of a Reaganite than Mitt Romney ever was.
What Gingrich says is true, but in some respects it’s beside the point. What these episodes reveal about Gingrich isn’t that he’s not a conservative; it’s that during the course of his career he’s been intemperate and erratic. He views himself as almost alone when it comes to understanding the world-historical moment he always seems to be living in. He has the courage that others, including Ronald Reagan, lacked. He possesses the insights that others, including Ronald Reagan, were deprived of. Gingrich’s comments were not those of a “loving critic,” to use a phrase from Madison. The former House speaker used words that were lacerating, extreme, and at times insulting.
A few weeks ago, President Obama released his much ballyhooed strategic blueprint, called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” It called for a force that would be “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced,” with “cutting-edge capabilities,” staffed by “the highest-quality, battle-tested professionals,” and with a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.” Today, the Pentagon unveiled details of the new defense budget which make clear none of these promises will be kept.
The most defensible elements of the new cutbacks are rolling back military pay increases and increasing the cost of Tricare insurance, both of which are generous by civilian standards–even if it does call into question the president’s pledge to “keep faith with our troops, military families, and veterans.” Our faith in those brave men and women is truly strained if not broken altogether by the decision to fire 100,000 of them–80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines who are being let go to find jobs in an anemic economy.
I was so distracted by Newt Gingrich tearing CNN’s John King’s head off at the South Carolina debate that I didn’t even notice this pretty serious charge the former speaker leveled at ABC. In the middle of his rant, Gingrich claimed he offered the network interviews with several of his friends who could rebut his ex-wife’s “open marriage” charge, but the news organization turned them down.
That could have been a major black eye for ABC. But as it turns out, it wasn’t true. Fittingly, John King got the story:
“Tonight, after persistent questioning by our staff, the Gingrich campaign concedes now Speaker Gingrich was wrong — both in his debate answer, and in our interview yesterday,” King said on tonight’s edition of John King USA. “Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond says the only people the Gingrich campaign offered to ABC were his two daughters from his first marriage.”
Needless to say, not a smart move on Gingrich’s part.
There’s an episode of the hit TV show “The West Wing” in which the president’s likely re-election opponent is asked why he wants to be president and flubs the question. The president’s advisers enjoy a good laugh at their opponent’s mistake–until they realize their boss also doesn’t know why he wants to be president.
As life imitates art, we seem to be watching a real-life episode of this farce play out. President Obama’s State of the Union address was widely panned even by his own supporters (“immediately forgettable” wrote Dan Amira). As a campaign speech–which it was–the address was delivered by a man who has no idea why he wants to be president again. He wouldn’t mention, let alone defend, his signature pieces of legislation–health care reform and the stimulus, both of which are deeply unpopular–yet said the economy is slowly getting better. The implication was that he hadn’t really done anything, but jobs were somehow coming back anyway so he should be re-elected because if the American economy is strong enough to withstand a first term of his, it can probably withstand another one.
In the repeat of a pattern that has characterized the Republican presidential race since last summer, a new batch of opinion polls show that since Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney has not only halted Newt Gingrich’s momentum but has regained the lead in the crucial Florida primary. But with five days left until Florida Republicans vote, the question today is whether Gingrich can use tonight’s debate (8 p.m. on CNN) to reclaim the mantle of conservative insurgent he has so skillfully utilized in the past.
The good news for Gingrich is that unlike Monday’s debate in Tampa where the audience was discouraged from applauding or reacting in any way to the proceedings, CNN is once again encouraging those in the hall in Jacksonville to whoop and holler as much as they like. The lack of audience reaction was seen as helping to tone down Gingrich’s demeanor on Monday. That was in marked contrast to the way he played off the crowd when he challenged CNN moderator John King’s opening question about his second wife’s accusations of misbehavior. That means we can probably expect Gingrich to come out swinging at the media and Romney and hope he can once again induce those in attendance to stand and cheer.
At the National Review, Mark Krikorian flags this revealing article from the Washington Post:
Newt Gingrich isn’t the only one trying to beat Mitt Romney in Florida.
Several liberal groups are funding new ad campaigns in the Sunshine State targeting the vulnerable GOP presidential candidate, part of an unusually bold effort by Democratic supporters to bolster President Obama’s chances in November by influencing the Republican primaries.
The plans include a $1 million ad buy from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee union, which is focusing on Romney’s history as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, have also jointly launched a Spanish-language radio campaign in Florida accusing Romney of having “two faces” on immigration issues.
Optimists may interpret Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for new talks with the United States and Europe about his country’s nuclear program as a sign that international sanctions are working. But the notion that Tehran is looking for a way out of the nuclear standoff is exactly what Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs who actually run Iran want Washington to believe. With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to implement sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank–a measure that would set in motion a limited embargo on the country’s export of oil–the Islamist regime is hoping to give the president an excuse to back away from the confrontation.
Despite his tough rhetoric on the issue, the Iranians know Obama is caught between two competing dynamics that are both linked to his re-election.
For show-and-tell at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Obama had Warren Buffett’s secretary sitting next to the First Lady. Debbie Bosenek has become the poster child for the allegation that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of federal taxes.
But Buffett’s secretary is not exactly poverty stricken. On “Fox and Friends” this morning, it was reported that she earns $200,000 a year. CEO’s secretaries, on average, earn $67,000, according to Michael Patrick Leahy. She has also apparently bought a second house, in Arizona.
According to Buffett’s article in the New York Times last August, he pays far less in taxes than the working stiffs in his office:
According to Reporters Without Frontiers, Turkey has now fallen below even Russia in press freedom, ranking 148 out of 178 countries surveyed.
Turkey may be a model for freedoms rescinded, but to call Turkey a model for democracy for liberalism now seems about as out-0f-place as saying that Russia is free, Iraq is a beacon for stability, the Palestinian Authority is a model of tolerance, or Somalia is a great spot for a vacation.
Amid the increasingly pointed criticism being leveled by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich against each other, a point of agreement between them is worth noting and celebrating–especially when it comes on the hot-button issue of immigration. In the Tampa debate on Jan. 23, they were asked about the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would allow immigrants who did not enter the country legally to become permanent, legal residents and ultimately citizens by meeting certain conditions–either attending college for two years or serving in the military for two years and staying out of trouble. Here is what Gingrich had to say:
I would work to get a signable version which would be the military component. I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home.
We have a clear provision that if you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States. That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.
Insider Advantage, which has been pretty good at picking up on pro-Gingrich trends early in Florida and South Carolina, shows Mitt Romney surging back into the lead in its latest poll:
An InsiderAdvantage/Florida Times-Union poll released Wednesday night of likely GOP voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to Gingrich’s 32 percent. …
Gingrich’s momentum ebbed though after a debate Monday where Romney hit him hard for his ties to Freddie Mac, calling him an “influence-peddler.” Romney has also launched multiple ads attacking Gingrich. Florida’s expensive media market gives the Romney campaign which holds an edge in fundraising the advantage. Additionally, a quarter million absentee ballots have already been cast, many when Romney enjoyed double-digit leads in state polls.
Against the backdrop of sectarian unrest in Bahrain, where I am visiting and writing this from, the U.S. embassy – who is not my sponsor and with whom I have had no contact – is evacuating diplomats from residences in compounds near largely Shi’ite villages. While the Shi’ite opposition has legitimate grievances, militant clerics appear to be seeking to provoke clashes to create martyrs ahead of expected February 14 protests. The Bahraini government made mistakes last year, but appears to be making a good faith effort to rectify and reform.
While the State Department is right to worry about the security of its employees, removing diplomats at the first sign of trouble undercuts diplomats’ ability to gather information. Thousands of American diplomats in Iraq, for example, achieved little to nothing because they allowed themselves to be shuttered behind the walls and checkpoints of the green zone. Likewise, many American diplomats in Egypt spent so much time catering to the Egyptian elite, they underestimated the discord brewing below. The last place anyone should go to understand what is going on in Lebanon is the American embassy, where diplomats remain shackled with security procedures that date back to the Lebanese civil war that ended well over two decades ago.