Campaign debates are never about who did best overall on any given night. They are about the individual moments that can define a candidate weeks later. And by that standard, Rick Santoum had a terrible night last night.
Mere minutes after CNN’s John King asked each candidate to choose a word that best defines them, and Santorum chose “courage,” Santorum was then asked to defend his vote in favor of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Santorum replied:
I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake.
As The Washington Examiner‘s Phil Klein wrote last night, Santorum’s admission that he voted against his own principles only reminds many conservatives why the don’t trust him:
This gets at the heart of the problem with Santorum, which I wrote about the day he announced he was running for president — he was the quintessential Bush era Republican. As the number three Republican in the Senate, he was a loyal soldier and went along with Bush’s big government policies, from NCLB to the Medicare prescription drug law. The very problem with the Bush era was precisely that too many Republicans decided to be team players rather than push back against the president when he was violating conservative principles. It’s this very “team player” mentality that the Tea Party movement, in part, was created to combat. Santorum spent the early part of his debate touting his opposition to the Wall Street bailout, but his argument tonight about taking one for the team leaves little doubt that he would have voted for the bailout had he still been in the Senate in 2008.
If Santorum goes on to lose Arizona and Michigan and gets swept on Super Tuesday, his “you take one for the team” moment will be remembered as the turning point in the primary.
The Washington Examiner‘s Michael Barone: “A good night for Romney. A mixed night for Santorum, who came off well on the issue where I thought he was vulnerable but too often seemed defensive on other issues.”
The Washington Examiner‘s David Freddoso: “With his adequate debate performance, Romney showed once again how he can win the nomination — by turning off voters to everyone else. And tonight, Republican voters were certainly turned off.”
The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York: “After all the recent controversy, who would have bet that the topic of contraception would not come up until well into the debate, that Santorum would answer it with restraint and grace, and that Romney would immediately adopt Santorum’s position as his own? It wasn’t at all likely, but it happened. And it was one of the best moments in a debate that had very few really good moments.”
National Review‘s Rich Lowry: “Rick Santorum’s night was defined by explaining why he voted for things he opposed (NCLB, Title X). He’s right that politics is a “team sport” (at least most of the time), but that’s not the best posture to be defending when you’re occupying his slot in a Republican presidential primary.”
National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru: “[Santorum] has spent way too long explaining himself on Arlen Specter and earmarks. No matter how good his answer is–and I’m inclined to agree with him about earmarks–time spent on these topics hurts him.”
GOP Field: Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour told ABC News yesterday that another candidate might enter the race. “If the Republican primary voters continue to split up their votes in such a way that nobody is close to having a majority, then there is a chance that somebody else might get in,” Barbour said.
Arizona: An NBC News/Marist poll released yesterday showed Romney with a commanding 16-point lead over Santorum among likely Arizona Republican primary voters. Santorum managed only 27 percent against Romney’s 43 percent.
Michigan: The Detroit Free Press endorsed Romney today: “He is the only one who has the combination of résumé and bearing to occupy the Oval Office.”
Romney: Romney unveiled a new tax plan yesterday that cuts income taxes 20 percent across the board and phase out loopholes for higher income earners. Romney will contrast his plan with Santorum’s manufacturing loophole plan and liken it to President Obama’s tax plan which has similar breaks for manufacturing and “clean” energy companies.
Around the Bigs
The New York Times, Winners and Losers From a Tax Proposal: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner introduced a tax plan yesterday that offsets new tax breaks for manufacturers and clean energy firms by raising taxes on a wide range of other companies.
Fox News, Obama to address rising gas prices, draw attention to his energy policies: Obama will travel to Florida today where he will take credit for rising oil and gas production and promoting a greater mix of energy sources and decreased consumption
CBS News, Florida Drivers Shelling Out Nearly $6 A Gallon At Some Gas Stations: Florida drivers are paying an average of $3.67 a gallon of unleaded gas, 12 cents more than the national average, and some stations are charging $6 a gallon.
The Weekly Standard‘s Jay Cost asks, “Who Is Responsible for the GOP?”
Cato’s Michael Tanner explains how we are much closer to a Europe-like fiscal disaster than we think.
At The Corner, Ed Whelan reports that a federal district court in Washington state delivered an important victory for religious liberty yesterday when it ruled that regulations forcing pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense the abortifacients violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The leftist global warming alarmist Desmogblog is still claiming that the “strategy memo” admitted liar and fraud Peter Gleick gave them is authentic.
The New York Times Andrew Revkin details the fallout from Gleick’s decision to lie and pass on forged documents.
The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein calls Romney’s tax plan “a massive redistribution — or perhaps it should be called a re-redistribution — from low-income people who depend on government programs such as Medicaid to higher-income folks who pay taxes.”