NBC Moderator Brian Williams started the debate Monday with what amounted to a session of psychoanalysis, asking the candidates about their feelings, their hopes, and their frustrations.
Not surprisingly, this prompted a lot of truth-telling from both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney who have been battered by members of their own party, and each other, in recent weeks. It would be an understatement to say that things got personal.
The first 20-odd minutes or so consisted of Romney and Gingrich going at each other over their ads, and the "leadership" record of the other candidate. A lot got packed into a question that was supposedly about leadership as both of the candidates interrupted each other or offered pointed rejoinders to what was just said.
The crucial turning point I think was when Romney launched into his repeated mentions of Gingrich's office on K street. What I thought was particularly favorable to Romney was the way he drilled into Gingrich's retort about how he was just a historian for Freddie Mac. Gingrich at one point even said he was a "historian of Washington." That just sounded contorted to me. Gingrich tried to divert the question to other GSEs, but Romney brought the question right back to Freddie. Gingrich said he was a historian but Romney wondered out loud why a historian would be paid so much over the term of the contract. He then cited specific language from Gingrich's contract to bring the point home.
Not only did Gingrich fall silent for a fairly significant period of time as a result of this sustained attack, but he was unable to make his 1% inspired charges against Romney stick. Romney simply parried by saying he was pro-growth and pro-enterprise.
The crowning moment came later in the debate when the other candidates agreed with Romney's characterization of Gingrich as an "influence peddler." Essentially everyone got on board and rallied to Romney's side.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore