GOP Debate Reaction Round-up

Mike Flynn, Editor, BigGovernment:

At last, days before what everyone in the media claims is the “final” primary contest before Romney’s inevitable capture of the GOP nomination, we had our first real debate. Not only was there back-and-forth among the candidates, but we were also treated to something resembling substance on some interesting issues. After South Carolina, something like 3% of all GOP delegates will have been selected. No need to end this party too soon, especially since the candidates’ characters and positions are only now starting to emerge.

Gov. Perry and Gingrich had the best night, overall. But, a good debate performance is already baked into the cake for Newt, so it isn’t clear how much of a bump he gets. Perry has steadily improved in the debates, with tonight’s performance being his best, but it may be too little too late. Sad, as I still think he has the record and the temperament to warrant a second look. GOP voters seem stubbornly fixated on never giving him that.

Romney, on the cusp of the media’s coronation, was finally subjected to sustained attacks from his rivals. He generally deflected most of these. But, not in a way that gives me confidence should he be the nominee. It was more in the ‘i-have-some-good-lines-to-counter-these-points’ kind of deflection rather than directly answering the charge. He was trying to win on points. Marquiss of Queensbury rules won’t cut it in November.

As for Santorum….well. He could certainly best Obama in a smugness contest. I’d like to borrow that man’s mirror for a day, but I’d probably become convinced I’m some modern-day Pericles and combust in a fire-ball of my own awesomeness. That a collection of evangelical leaders tapped him as their choice for the next President says way too much about the current state of leadership in the evangelical movement.

Ron Paul seems to be having a blast in this campaign. I know many people obsess over his obviously antiquated views on foreign policy, but he is acting like a modern-day Diogenes and making the other candidates more honest.

Line of the night goes to Gingrich: 99 weeks is an Associate Degree.

Dana Loesch, Editor, BigJournalism:

Newt Gingrich won tonight’s debate. Rick Perry finished second, followed by Santorum, Romney, and Paul. My favorite moment of the debate was when Romney slammed campaign finance law and the necessity of super PACs thus slamming … John McCain’s legislation. McCain, who last week endorsed him. Gingrich’s Ben Franklin-esque answer on helping people from poverty rather than making them easier in it earned him a standing O. Takeaway quote on unemployment benefits: “99 weeks is an associate degree.”

I felt that Mitt Romney’s answer on the Second Amendment was unsatisfactory and disingenuous. He’s got a D- rating from the Gun Owners of America. His strategy of securing gun rights makes no sense: compromise and water them down to make them stronger? His answer on abortion was confusing and attempted to walk the line between pro-life and questionable moderate.

Rick Santorum’s answer to everything seems to be bigger government, though as an opponent of No Child Left Behind, I was glad to see him disavow his vote for it and state that he was wrong.

Ron Paul thinks drug laws or racist. I would like to introduce him to a county in Missouri, named the meth capital of the world, where everyone arrested is white.

This was a new Rick Perry tonight. He knew his South Carolina audience and slammed the DOJ while name-checking Catholic Charities as example of the administrations’ discrimination against religion. He hijacked the back-and-forth between Romney and Gingrich/Romney and Santorum several times, giving the impression that maybe Rick Perry wants to be President after all. But will this be enough?

Joel Pollak, Editor-in-Chief,

Mitt Romney was the loser tonight–not just because he was the obvious target, but also because he botched his answers to questions about his tax returns that he must have known were coming. Worse, he made a number of claims about his tenure at Bain that invite close scrutiny–is it really true that every Bain investment was aimed at growing companies and creating jobs, for example? I thought Newt Gingrich was very good–when he wasn’t talking about Bain, which has become a liability for him even more than for Romney. Rick Santorum was solid all around. Perry had a few great moments, as did Paul–that “zero” answer on income tax rates was low-hanging fruit. However, Paul’s foreign policy answers are getting worse–his response to a legitimate question about defense spending in South Carolina was incoherent. I’m not sure anyone did enough tonight to catch Romney–and I’m not sure Romney did enough to reassure Republicans that he is ready to face Barack Obama.