Monday night in Myrtle Beach, SC marked the 139th GOP debate in this election cycle. Well, perhaps that number is a bit high, but its close! With the number of debates ticking up month by month, there is virtually nothing new for the candidates to reveal about their platforms or positions. South Carolina was not a debate to watch for new revelations. What makes the Myrtle Beach debate so interesting is the fact that now that the field is thinning out, the gloves are coming off.
Huntsman officially bowed out of the race earlier in the day, bringing the number of men on stage down to five. He wasn’t missed.
It was obvious from the start that Newt was fired up and ready to go after Romney. He has made it his mission since Iowa to tear down Romney every chance he gets. Newt is angry about Romney’s Super PAC and he made sure everybody knew it Monday night. As a matter of fact, it seemed every candidate had finally decided to attack Mitt’s record on stage. It may be too little too late, but it was almost refreshing to see Mitt being forced to defend himself with nearly every question/comment. The only way any one else will become the nominee is to attack the front-runner directly. If Mitt does win, he’ll be attacked like that every day in the generals. Either way, it’s a win for Republicans to have the former Massachusetts governor challenged relentlessly. Mitt seemed thrown off his game a bit by all the attention. He stuttered and dodged more than he previously has in any debate. This was clearly Romney’s worst debate performance to date. That being said, it was still a performance worthy of at least a satisfactory rating from Romney fans. Not-Romney candidates take note: Mitt is not accustomed to attacks.
I really hate to draw the ire of Paulistinians (as Levin calls them), but he really did seem kookier than normal in South Carolina. Oh sure, the typical Paul crowd was in attendance, whooping and hollering with every Ron Paul-ism Ron Paul uttered. But Ron Paul’s Ron Paul act is getting tired, and weird. He made some vague distinctions between military spending and defense spending, complained at length (again) about useless wars and battle-happy Americans who “can’t wait” to start more wars; then he told the audience that he has more military support than any other candidate on stage. The Ronulans were clearly and typically impressed, but I suspect Paul did nothing to sway anyone else.
And what was up with Juan Williams? Did he just use the list of questions Stephanopolous rejected from the last debate? Williams spent a good amount of his moderating time race-baiting and giving typical left-wing talking points in the form of questions. Diane Sawyer was proud, I’m sure. We may hear a bit about Santorum regarding this tomorrow. He did step in it a bit when talking about the issues of letting felons vote and how it affects African-Americans. His point was salient, but no doubt Media Matters and Rachael Maddow will have lots of fun with the old “conservatives are racist bastards” meme for the rest of the week.
Perry continues to turn in strong debate performances. He’s sunk a lot of capital into South Carolina and this could be his last stand. If Perry doesn’t poll well here, its questionable as to whether or not he stays in the race after this. Perry was up to the task and took every chance to paint himself as the last “outsider” candidate – pro military, pro capitalism, pro small government, anti-Obama. I’ve noticed the quality of Perry’s debate performances has increased as the height of his shirt collar has decreased. Coincidence?
Santorum looked very confident and perhaps tied Newt as the winner of this debate. He stumbled a bit, but only a bit and he received big applause for direct and strong attacks on Mitt Romney. It is obvious Santorum is ramping up and with the news that he may have won Iowa after all, it is no wonder. It was a good night for Santorum supporters, but the question remains: did he convince any new voters to lend him their support?
The primary train rolls on, considerably lighter but also much faster. Tuesday’s primary vote in South Carolina will only bring the race into sharper focus. The process is tiring, but we are getting closer to the endgame. I’ll be honest, though – the first man who promises to rid America of Flo from those damn insurance commercials gets my vote.