Commentary Magazine


Topic: GOP debate

Romney’s the Saturday Night Winner

Going into Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum’s rise might have made him the focal point of the event. Although he had a good night, the real story was the failure of any of his rivals to lay a glove on frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though the evening began with a brutal attack on Romney from Newt Gingrich, it fell flat. From then on, Romney cruised, and the night ended with him looking more like the inevitable nominee than ever.

Santorum sounded strong and confident and he also had help from Newt Gingrich that made the two of them look like a wrestling tag team. Nothing that happened tonight will interfere with his momentum, and he may well do better than expected in New Hampshire and set himself up for a good night next week in South Carolina. But the failure of the GOP field to successfully attack Romney will only strengthen his position as the man who looks like the eventual winner.

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Going into Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum’s rise might have made him the focal point of the event. Although he had a good night, the real story was the failure of any of his rivals to lay a glove on frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though the evening began with a brutal attack on Romney from Newt Gingrich, it fell flat. From then on, Romney cruised, and the night ended with him looking more like the inevitable nominee than ever.

Santorum sounded strong and confident and he also had help from Newt Gingrich that made the two of them look like a wrestling tag team. Nothing that happened tonight will interfere with his momentum, and he may well do better than expected in New Hampshire and set himself up for a good night next week in South Carolina. But the failure of the GOP field to successfully attack Romney will only strengthen his position as the man who looks like the eventual winner.

Other than a last-minute riposte to Jon Huntsman for his defense of China, Romney avoided attacking the other candidates. Though many criticized President Obama, he was the only one whose real focus was on November.

Other than his embarrassing opening slam at Romney in which he approvingly quoted a New York Times hit piece, Gingrich was back to being the man who rebuilt his candidacy via the debates. But the break since the last one in mid-December was fatal to his hopes. Though he scored consistently, his obvious deference to Santorum showed he’s probably lost hope of winning the prize himself.

Interestingly, the only candidate to attack Santorum was the man who is quickly being displaced by him in the first tier: Ron Paul. Santorum ably turned aside Paul’s comments. But the contest between them looked very much like the battle for the runner-up position. While the long slog to the nomination is far from over, the Saturday night debate made it look as if Romney is about to lap the field.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate

Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from New Hampshire. So tune in to ABC at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining GOP contenders have at it yet again.

Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from New Hampshire. So tune in to ABC at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining GOP contenders have at it yet again.

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Weekend Debate Doubleheader Preview: Santorum May Relish the Attention

Major League baseball gave up scheduled doubleheaders decades ago, but the Republican presidential contest is serving up what amounts to one this weekend on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The remaining contenders will face off at 9 p.m., on Saturday night at Anselm College in Manchester. The same sextet will repeat the exercise less than 12 hours later on NBC’s “Meet the Press” at 9 a.m., on Sunday. But while some observers will be looking for signs of fatigue on the weary candidates, the main focus will be on two men: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The pair were separated by only eight votes in the final results in Iowa this past Tuesday, and both are hoping for strong performances this weekend in order to maintain their momentum. Romney is a prohibitive favorite in New Hampshire and will, as he largely has done in the past, try to remain above the fray and concentrate his fire on President Obama. While Santorum is in no position to challenge Romney for the top spot in the Granite State, if he can somehow parlay the buzz about Iowa into a second place finish that would put him in a strong position for the crucial contest in South Carolina on January 15. That means he, and the rest of the field  — and especially Newt Gingrich, who blames Romney for the collapse of his campaign — will probably be attacking Romney in the two debates. But Romney won’t be the only one in the crosshairs. Both Rick Perry and Ron Paul will likely concentrate their fire on Santorum as they try to keep him from turning the GOP battle into a two-man race.

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Major League baseball gave up scheduled doubleheaders decades ago, but the Republican presidential contest is serving up what amounts to one this weekend on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The remaining contenders will face off at 9 p.m., on Saturday night at Anselm College in Manchester. The same sextet will repeat the exercise less than 12 hours later on NBC’s “Meet the Press” at 9 a.m., on Sunday. But while some observers will be looking for signs of fatigue on the weary candidates, the main focus will be on two men: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The pair were separated by only eight votes in the final results in Iowa this past Tuesday, and both are hoping for strong performances this weekend in order to maintain their momentum. Romney is a prohibitive favorite in New Hampshire and will, as he largely has done in the past, try to remain above the fray and concentrate his fire on President Obama. While Santorum is in no position to challenge Romney for the top spot in the Granite State, if he can somehow parlay the buzz about Iowa into a second place finish that would put him in a strong position for the crucial contest in South Carolina on January 15. That means he, and the rest of the field  — and especially Newt Gingrich, who blames Romney for the collapse of his campaign — will probably be attacking Romney in the two debates. But Romney won’t be the only one in the crosshairs. Both Rick Perry and Ron Paul will likely concentrate their fire on Santorum as they try to keep him from turning the GOP battle into a two-man race.

Perry, who seemed to be considering abandoning his campaign after his disastrous fifth place finish in Iowa, needs to cut Santorum down to size if he is to have a shot at holding on to his share of the social conservative vote. Paul is running in second place but might be vulnerable to a late charge from Santorum. Both Perry and Santorum will blast the former Pennsylvania senator as a “big government conservative” who supported earmarks and is part of the Washington problem rather than the solution.

But the problem for Perry and Paul is this is the first time in the series of GOP debates that Santorum will not fight for attention. I expect him to relish the attacks, which will give him more time to make his own points. Instead of diminishing him, the blasts at Santorum may help more than they hurt in much the same way the focus on Romney has reinforced his position as the frontrunner. Indeed, the best thing that could happen to Santorum this weekend will be a barrage from lesser candidates that will only confirm what the latest polls have already told us: Santorum’s surge may just be getting started.

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The Political Chess Match Continues

I wanted to make a few political observations about last night’s GOP debate, which I thought was quite a good one overall.

Several times, Mitt Romney had a chance to go after Newt Gingrich, and he pulled back from doing so. That leads me to think his campaign team must believe Gingrich is quickly losing altitude in Iowa and the week-long attacks on Gingrich have taken a toll on the former Speaker. The Romney campaign, it appears, concluded there was no need for the former Massachusetts governor to go after Gingrich at this point, on that stage; and the risks of a confrontation, which had the potential to get ugly, were greater than the rewards. (It can’t have hurt Romney that Michele Bachmann went after Gingrich hard on both Freddie Mac and life issues.)

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I wanted to make a few political observations about last night’s GOP debate, which I thought was quite a good one overall.

Several times, Mitt Romney had a chance to go after Newt Gingrich, and he pulled back from doing so. That leads me to think his campaign team must believe Gingrich is quickly losing altitude in Iowa and the week-long attacks on Gingrich have taken a toll on the former Speaker. The Romney campaign, it appears, concluded there was no need for the former Massachusetts governor to go after Gingrich at this point, on that stage; and the risks of a confrontation, which had the potential to get ugly, were greater than the rewards. (It can’t have hurt Romney that Michele Bachmann went after Gingrich hard on both Freddie Mac and life issues.)

If Gingrich’s lead in Iowa was in the double digits, you can be sure Romney would not have declined the invitation to attack Gingrich.

Gingrich, on the other hand, went out of his way to appear agreeable and recapture the “Uncle Newt” image that helped catapult him to the top of the polls. In that respect, I thought Gingrich did quite well, even if his irritation with Michele Bachmann was barely contained.

Overall, I thought both Romney and Gingrich had a very good night. The big loser was Ron Paul, whose stand on Iran is incoherent, discrediting and has limited appeal in a GOP primary.

Right now, Romney, Gingrich, and Paul are bunched at the top in Iowa, with the second-tier candidates not all that far behind. There are 18 days left before the Iowa caucus – which in this particular political year means the situation can dramatically shift several times between now and January 3.

The chess match continues.

 

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