If Mitt Romney loses the South Carolina primary Saturday, he can only blame himself for his two mediocre debate performances this week.. Unless you are the moderator of the debate asking questions about condoms or second-marriages, it is hard to get booed at a Republican debate. But Romney got booed heartily last night when he again gave an equivocal answer on when, and how many, of his tax returns he would release.
This was not a surprise question. Both Democrats and Republicans have been raising the issue for weeks. Romney should have had an answer ready Monday night. The fact that he still didn’t have a firm answer ready by Thursday night is almost criminal campaign negligence.
Outside of the tax issue, Romney also failed to bring the same fire that he has just begun to exhibit on the campaign trail. Earlier in the day, an Occupy Wall Street protester attacked Romney for being in the 1% and Romney pushed back hard: “”Let me tell you something: America is a great nation because we’re a united nation. And those who try to divide the nation, as you’re trying to do here, and as our president’s doing, are hurting this country seriously. … And if you’ve got a better model — if you think China’s better, or Russia’s better, or Cuba’s better, or North Korea’s better — I’m glad to hear all about it. But you know what? America’s right and you’re wrong.”
Where was this Romney when CNN’s John King asked Romney about Newt’s second-marriage? No, Romney should not have attacked Gingrich on that issue, but it was still a perfect opportunity to say something like, “Newt’s personal life is his business, but he has plenty of other relevant faults like his past lobbying for the drug industry and Freddie Mac.” But Romney didn’t say that, or go into any other real attacks. He only played defense. And he played it poorly.
Maybe Romney needs to lose South Carolina, so he can realize that playing it nice is not going to win him this primary or a general election against President Obama.
The Washington Examiner‘s Michael Barone: “Newt Gingrich had a great 24 hours going into the debate, getting the endorsement of Rick Perry and leading in three South Carolina polls released today, but I think both Romney and Santorum did much better in the debate and may have recovered significant ground. Gingrich was, after his scathing attack on John King and CNN for starting off with the question about the Marianne Gingrich interview, mostly off his game.”
The Washington Examiner‘s Phil Klein: “It was Rick Santorum who dominated the debate — taking both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to task. He skewered Romney’s Massachusetts health care law and Gingrich for supporting the individual mandate. He went after Gingrich for being an unreliable leader. And he attacked Romney’s record on abortion and argued that Gingrich pushed to sideline social issues behind the scenes.”
The American Spectator‘s James Antle: “The debate may well have been won and lost in the opening minutes. CNN’s John King asked the first question about Marianne Gingrich’s statement that Newt Gingrich, her former husband, had wanted an open marriage. Then Gingrich did what he does best: he went after the moderator, getting a standing ovation in the process.”
National Review‘s Rich Lowry: “Romney felt a little worn down to me, like he just trying to get by now. His answer on the tax returns was, again, lousy. He’s succeeded in convincing anyone paying attention that he must be hiding something, whether he is or not.”
National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg: “Romney can’t answer questions about his tax returns at all. He’s terrible at it and he needs to get better, quickly. …Newt’s opening answer was very strong and will be replayed a lot. But I thought it was overstated and, as he kept going, it became clear he was trying to squelch the issue rather than express his true rage.”
National Review‘s Lisa Schiffren: “Santorum is right about Gingrich’s narcissism. Gingrich makes it all about himself. The election needs to be about Obama.”
The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol: “Mitt Romney had, I thought, a potentially problematic debate, because he failed to shut down or even to blunt two distinct lines of attack that are problematic for him: his taxes, and Romneycare.
The Weekly Standard‘s Stephen Hayes: “For the second debate in a row, Romney seemed off balance as he struggled to answer questions about his taxes. … in a response that drew boos from the audience, Romney dodged a clever question from King about how many years of past returns he would make public.”
South Carolina: The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York reports that Newt Gingrich is just connecting with voters better than Mitt Romney is: “Gingrich, on the other hand, just talks to voters — and he speaks to them as equals who are just as interested in the substance of things as he is. … Audiences seem to leave Gingrich events feeling a little more connected to their candidate than Romney’s crowds do — and that could be a factor on Saturday.”
Gingrich: ABC News aired an interview with Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, who claimed Newt asked for an “open marriage” and said Gingrich does not have the moral character necessary to be president. “This just goes to solidify his image as the most arrogant politician in America,” South Carolina Republican strategist Wesley Donehue told The Washington Examiner‘s Susan Ferrechio. “What kind of man thinks it’s OK to ask his wife for an open marriage? Absolutely, it is going to hurt him here. Southerners don’t put up with that.”
Romney: Mitt Romney slammed an Occupy Wall Street protester who attacked him for “being part of the 1%.” Romney responded: “Let me tell you something: America is a great nation because we’re a united nation. And those who try to divide the nation, as you’re trying to do here, and as our president’s doing, are hurting this country seriously. The right course for America is not to try to divide America, and try and divide us between one and another, it’s to come together as a nation. And if you’ve got a better model — if you think China’s better, or Russia’s better, or Cuba’s better, or North Korea’s better — I’m glad to hear all about it. But you know what? America’s right and you’re wrong.”
Polls: According to Gallup, Mitt Romney and President Obama have similar intensity scores among national adults, of -1 and -3, respectively. Newt Gingrich has a -20.
Around the Bigs
The New York Times, For Obama, a Day at Disney World and a Night of Fund-Raisers: President Obama flew on Air Force One to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, where he issued executive orders providing subsidies to the travel industry. Then the taxpayer-funded jet turned north to New York, for four fund-raisers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The Washington Examiner, U.S. pressures Israel to avoid Iranian conflict: Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected to urge his Israeli counterpart to show restraint with Iran, as part of an effort to lower the temperature in the ongoing crisis over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Washington Post, Center for American Progress, group tied to Obama, under fire from Israel advocates: The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely aligned with the White House, is embroiled in a dispute with several Jewish organizations over charges that some think tank staffers have publicly used language that could be construed as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic.
RedState‘s Erick Erickson reports that many Romney delegates are former Ron Paul supporters and he speculates that Paul is banking on a convention where Romney fails on the first ballot and many of his delegates drop him and vote for Paul on the second.
The Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson on President Obama’s Keystone decision: “President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn’t often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and — beyond the symbolism — won’t even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his reelection that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.”
The Heritage Foundation‘s Rob Bluey reports that oil and gas production on federal lands is down 40% under Obama.
ThinkProgress celebrates the 50th anniversary of JFK signing the executive order giving federal workers the ability to use collective bargaining.
Time magazine’s Joe Klein pushes back against the “neoconservative thuggery” that is driving attacks on the Center for American Progress over Israel.
The Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen calls Romney’s response to the Occupy Wall Street protester “twisted.”