Sunday morning brought the second GOP presidential primary debate in New Hampshire. A mere twelve hours after the one held the previous night, this one was better but that's not saying much. The one Saturday night was horrid, at best, thanks to the unbelievably silly and unimportant questions asked by the two liberal network news anchors acting as moderators. This Sunday morning debate was also hosted by a liberal network news anchor but his inane questioning took a different turn. This moderator tried to bait the candidates into doing some in-fighting on stage.
The candidates were itching for a fight with front-runner Mitt Romney after a night of being told they totally wimped out about challenging Romney in the Saturday night debate. Everyone knows that Romney will win the primary in New Hampshire but it is a matter of by how large a margin at this point. For the others do make a decent showing, they have to distinguish themselves from each other, but in particular from Romney. They are all running as the not-Mitt candidate.
After about fifteen minutes of the not-Mitt candidates duking it out with Mitt Romney, they retreated again. No one understands this so I won't dwell on it. The best line delivered, however, before the tit for tat attacks ended was when Gingrich told Romney to stop with the "pious baloney" and that was memorable.
The host, NBC's David Gregory tried to make an issue of Senate Minority Leader McConnell's remark that his job was to make President Obama a one term president. It was silly, of course, and the candidates educated Gregory a bit. It is the job of the opposition party to make the president from the other party a one-term president. Gingrich spoke from personal experience - he spoke of his opposition to President Clinton, of Nancy Pelosi's opposition to President George W. Bush, etc. Romney was able to speak of his ability to work with the Massachusetts senate as governor when it was leaning 85% Democratic. "We can find common ground". He also pointed out that with that 85% Democratic senate in Massachusetts he cut taxes 19 times and created charter schools.
Governor Rick Perry was able to recite the three agencies he would like to abolish - the Departments of Energy, Commerce and Education - and that caused laughter from the audience. Frankly, while it was amusing it would have been effective had it he done that two months ago.
Newt continued his attack on Romney over his involvement in Bain Capital and the money he made in the private sector. I have to say, I am finding it most irritating for conservatives - Republicans - to bash others for success in the free market. We are the party who is on a mission to encourage free markets and the model of capitalism. To criticize one or the other for working and receiving money for that work is not a good tactic. It makes that person sound like a Democrat. Capitalism and free markets - it's a good thing.
Santorum brought his nasty face. He has a tendency to go negative in an ugly way when he is feeling defensive. He is trying mightily to stay in the fight and finish in the top three in New Hampshire, which he may very well do. But in order for him to remain viable on to South Carolina he has to solidify the social conservatives behind him. He doesn't have the organization or money in the bank to keep going without that happening.
The thing about Romney is that he is able to stand on stage and take the attacks while keeping a smile on his face. Real smile or not, it's effective. He looks calm and he doesn't have to get down into the fray with the others. It's the luxury the front runner possesses.
Gingrich was slighted by Santorum as Santorum tries to take credit for welfare reform and other entitlement reforms that were, in fact, ushered in under Gingrich's leadership as Speaker of the House. Santorum was, as Gingrich characterizes him, "a junior partner" in that work. Gingrich directly turned to Romney and told him to call off his former staffers and friends who are producing ads against him through the Super PACs. Romney declared he had not seen any of these ads then went on to go point by point on the claims in them. It is against election law, you see, for a candidate to work together with a Super PAC. So, that was interesting.
Governor Perry did well, both Saturday night and this debate. the problem is that he is no longer considered a viable candidate and is not given much air time. He is banished to the end of the stage and not asked to join the discussion. Perry is so far down in the polls that some are questioning if he has high enough numbers to even be in the South Carolina debates.