For a debate that is so close to a major juncture in this primary season, the GOP contest on Thursday night in South Carolina fell flat for me. It mostly contained the same elements we've heard in every other Republican debate: Mitt Romney explaining his healthcare law in Massachusetts and his business career, Rick Santorum attacking Romney’s conservative bona fides, Newt Gingrich making grandiose claims about his candidacy, and Ron Paul was ... well, Ron Paul. All four candidates took several jabs at President Barack Obama.
The real story of the night was something that was addressed right at the outset – Newt Gingrich’s second wife's releasing controversial comments about his moral character. This is nothing new for Gingrich but you could tell he was a little irate about the whole issue, given that his values are now under further scrutiny right before a primary with a significant evangelical population. To add to the aura of tension in the hall, the debate occurred just hours before Marianne Gingrich was slated to broadcast on ABC’s Nightline about the breakdown of her marriage to the former Speaker in the late 90s.
Romney continued to project himself as a general election candidate, rather than a candidate for the GOP’s nomination, and it showed yet again tonight. Santorum did seem a little perplexed and the thin, but significant level of sweat on his brow just reinforced his come-from-behind ethos. He knows he has his political back against the wall and that he must defeat Ron Paul in the South Carolina primary in order to stay relevant as the fight for first has basically come down to a duel between Gingrich and Romney.
In the end, all things considered, this Republican debate was more or less what we have been hearing from this field for roughly the last month or so. The personal attacks and the sales pitch from each of the candidates are stagnant and could have been said at any of the previous three thousand Republican debates.
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