Republican Floridian Debate: Brief Romney-Gingrich Clash Plus Gingrich Appeasement

The first Florida Republican primary debate: Romney a little better; Gingrich a little worse;Santorum and Paul less relevant; and moderator Brian Williams a mite better.

Well, the anticipated Romney-Gingrich fireworks came early, but were not sustained. Those who wanted Romney to show more life were not disappointed, but those who may have wanted Gingrich to have emphasized more issues in his favor may have been disappointed. Gingrich defended himself with non-substantive ad hominem attacks – this time he repeatedly said in a variety of ways that Romney had mischaracterized him and his failures, but avoided the “L” word (liar). Had I been coaching the former Speaker, I would have focused more on Romneycare, but Gingrich might have been concerned that his early-on support of that program would hurt him in debate. It did come up again with Romney’s familiar refrain of the program’s alleged saving grace of not requiring national coverage. The wealth of non-medical coverage in Romneycare is just one more problematic element of his relatively unexamined Massachusetts health care.

But on the issue of Newt Gingrich’s lobbying or not lobbying (and whether it can properly be called “lobbying”) for Freddie Mac, Newt never tells anybody what he did for the money, the $300,000 he received.

Gingrich, after a moderate push-back, became the mellower Newt. In this softer persona, he incongruously tried to enlist Ron Paul, leaving the audience incredulous by saying that he and Paul are so close on federal reserve and monetary policy that they could enter into a coalition.

Forgive me for resurrecting an expression of decades ago, but “gag me with a spoon.”

The irreconcilability of Gingrich and Paul, to Gingrich’s credit, comprises national security, troop policy, foreign policy and even economic policy for the most part. Their unbridgeable differences became quite evident as the debate wore on, as they discussed policy on Iran, a crucial presidential issue. Incidentally, Gingrich and Paul may be the most polarized American candidates ever on Israeli policy since 1948, an issue that was not raised. Where was the moderator on this matter?

Speaking of the moderator’s responsibility, Brian Williams has been my least favorite moderator due to his cocky “The Debate is About Me” style, but he did slightly at least attenuate some of his more offensive moderator stylistics. He let the candidates speak without consistently interrupting them; he lessened his condescension; and he slightly, but only slightly, lessened his “Candidate X says you’re a liar; what do you think about that?” approach.

Issues, Mr. Williams – stay on the issues. But he was better – 5 more debates and he’ll be a decent moderator.

The other questioners, Adam Smith (I know; I know – the incredible irony; the participants knew it as well) and Beth Reinhard were fine.

Candidates Paul and Rick Santorum have become more inconsequential, but Santorum throughout has been as conversant with a wide range of domestic and foreign policy matters as any candidate I have seen. Santorum’s 18-point loss in his last Pennsylvania Senatorial race was brought up in a debate for the first time (by Williams), I believe, and he really had no answer for it, except that it was a bad year for Republicans and he stood his ground in that election.

The issues of the Keystone Pipeline, the Dream Act, a national language of English, Iran and implications should Castro die and several other foreign and domestic policy issues were brought up with little difference among the candidates. Oops…Paul dissented on celebrating Castro’s death – Newt and he disagreed on this, damaging their putative “coalition.”

In the end this observer does not believe that Newt Gingrich has any chance to be nominated by the Republican Party. Mitt Romney does, and it is his nomination to lose. That is a change from the perception just days ago that it was his going away.


Red Maryland

The Premier blog of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the Free State, named one of Maryland's best political blogs by the Washington Post

Dr. Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012); Vatz will be away for the final Florida Republican debate.

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Bruce Vail January 24, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I don't find the politics of Ron Paul particularly attractive, but at least there is one Republican candidate opposed to starting another war (Iran) right away. Jeez, the war in Iraq just ended last month...
Sean Tully January 25, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Newt is now crying that the debate was unfair because the audience couldn't respond. He says he won't debate any more unless the audience can respond. The networks should just say no more audiences allowed. I thought Newt was the big, bad debater? Obama would make mincemeat out of him.
Sean Tully January 25, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Obama sends Navy Seals into another dangerous and utlimately successful mission - this time to save hostages in Somalia. He is using the military the correct way. What a breath of fresh air after the heavy handed Bush. If Mitt or Newt are elected, they'll take us back to the bad old days of senseless invasions.


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