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.