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January 19, 2012

GOP Debate Reaction

With Rick Perry now out of the race, the four candidates remaining on the stage tonight had a chance to really engage with one another at the last debate before the South Carolina presidential primary.

Newt Gingrich won the night on the first question, when he trained his fire on the media and debate moderator John King for focusing on claims by his ex-wife that Gingrich had requested an "open marriage." He denied the allegations and received multiple standing ovations during the exchange. No other moment from the night was nearly as memorable. The rest of Gingrich's night came in around par, but those first moments may be all he needed to capture the headlines and continue his recent momentum.

Rick Santorum also did well, landing a number of substantive punches on Mitt Romney for his Massachusetts health care program, as well as on Gingrich for his tenure as Speaker of the House. Santorum's campaign has clearly done an effective job on their opposition research. He also gave some of the most detailed answers on policy questions and did his best to create some space between his positions and those of his opponents.

Romney once again had an average performance and stumbled when asked about releasing his federal income tax returns, which he finally committed to releasing in April. After two less-than-stellar debates in a row, it's unclear whether he can hold on to his narrowing lead in South Carolina.

Ron Paul had great difficulty getting time in the debate and the other three candidates generally declined to engage him. At times his responses seemed to ramble.


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