So how did they do?....
ABC UP. Saturday's GOP debate drew 7.6 million viewers, the largest audience so far. Second best was the Sept. 22 debate run by Fox News, which drew 6.1 million. Diane Sawyer & George Stephanopoulos moderated with courtesy & seriousness.
Romney. Start with Mitt's gaffe. Debate gaffes may or may not stick. New Gingrich dodged a bullet with his immigration comments a few weeks ago, whilst Rick Perry was no so lucky a few months ago, perhaps because Perry directly accused those taking a harder line of lacking compassion, whereas Gingrich only hinted at same. Delicacy usually matters.
Romney's "I'll bet you $10,000" likely will be, alas for him, the gaffe that keeps on giving. Ironically, as pundits have noted, had he offered to "bet a million" it would have sailed by, as no one would have thought it serious, though Mitt's pockets are deep enough to wager same. It was the serious nature of his challenge that will put off middle-class voters stretching to cover their mortgages, food, energy & tuition bills, etc. who will get the unintended message: He's not one of us, and lives in a world in which he cannot understand our problems. (Jed Babbin, in his TAS column explaining why Mitt descends as Newt ascends, notes that the average income for an Iowa household of four in 2010 was $61,657.)
Romney later echoed his already damaging gaffe by stating, when asked to name an instance when life was financially challenging--which it never has been for him--that if voters want to vote for a poor person he is not their candidate. Back in 2007 Romney committed the identical tone-deaf gaffe in a fall debate, when upon being asked what advice he'd offer nervous voters worried about a recent stock market plunge, he answered that voters should view it as a "buying opportunity." Which it was--IF, that is, you sport Mitt's bank account. The average voter is sitting on a pile of bills, not a boatload of cash.
Worse, Romney has lost 17 of 22 pirmary & election contests since he entered politics in 1994. In 1994 Romney lost by 17 points to Ted Kennedy, in a year that the GOP swept the House, taking control for the first time in forty years, with an unpopular President (thanks to HillaryCare), and with Teddy still in hot water for his role in a rape case involving a nephew, William Kennedy Smith, who was acquitted.)
Newt Raises the Roof. His exchange with Mitt on Newt's "invented people" characterization of the Palestinians was classic and essentially accurate. Newt invoked Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" (1983) & "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" (1987) public sallies (both true) as justification for his blunt remark. But Mitt's counter, that Newt's phrase was needlessly inflammatory, also resonates. Presidents must employ both power & finesse, to be fully effective. Newt's power play comes in a different time & context than Reagan's 1983 power play. Reagan was right then; Newt overplayed it today. But Newt is right--Mitt does not contest this--in stating that truth has been sidelined in the fictive Mideast pseudo-peace process. Thus both are right on the merits; but GOP voters will likely prefer Newt's power to Mitt's finesse, in a no-holds barred election campaign against Barack Obama.
And ominously for Mitt, Newt's New Hampshire star rises in Romney's Northeast backyard.
Perry, Bachmann, Santorum: Better. All performed well. Perry's Iran remarks, nailing President Obama's failure to try to either destroy or recapture the stealth drone that crashed in Iran, were on target. But they were incomplete. Perry neglected to add that Iran has been waging war against America since Obama was in high school--taking American embassy personnel hostage in 1979 & holding them 444 days, truck-bombing the Marine barracks in Oct. 1983 in Lebanon, teaching al-Qaeda how to truck-bomb two US embassies in Africa in 1998, developing high-tech explosive devices to kill & maim US troops in Iraq & Afghanistan. So had Obama authorized an operation inside Iran it would not, as he & his advisers feared, have been an act of war; it would have been a response in a continuing war that Iran has conducted against the US since the founding of the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic in 1979.
Bachmann & Santorum made their best cases that they have been consistently conservative throughout their political careers. They told the truth. Neither Romney nor Newt plausibly can make that claim--they do, but few who know their records believe them. Both have championed various Big Government ideas at various times. Bachmann made this point tellingly, with her "Newt Romney" appellation.
Paul: Singing to The Faithful. Paul is consistent, as a Libertarian conservative. He cannot win enough delegates to win the nomination. But his votes could deny Newt or Mitt the 50 percent needed to win on the first ballot. The GOP will not nominate a primary contestant who fails to win 50 percent of the delegates. Which would make for great party convention television.
Bottom Line. The premise of Romney's candidacy is that he has a solid managerial track record; the premise of Newt's candidacy is that he can perform better than his spotty track record. The voters will decide in a few weeks who really is winning. For now, Newt seems to be on a real roll. And Romney is flailing, on the verge of desperation. So stay tuned.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, Conservative Politics