Debate analysis.

So I stayed up for most of it, but I missed the start which may turn out to be all that matters. Clip here. Newt managed to massacre the open marriage issue and even get an attack on Obama into his defence. He’s a damn good performer, whatever you think about him, and to steal the show and entrance the crowd once again was quite remarkable. He will surely win South Carolina now, and with the announcement that Santorum in fact won Iowa, the feeling a few days ago that Romney was winner in waiting has quite incredibly vanished. No more so than because Mitt proceeded to sink even further in a debate he needed to win.

Sprung grasps the absurdity of the Newt moment:

Newt’s little show of high moral dudgeon when asked at the opening gun about his ex-wife’s allegations of cruel, self-serving betrayal is getting rave reviews as performance art. And it was an astounding display of the Audacity of Hubris. In the space of a minute or two, Gingrich managed to blame or condemn questioner John King, the news media, his ex-wife and Barack Obama for his being forced to address the consequences of his serial adultery.

It’s no mystery why the audience of Republicans so instinctively and passionately rallied to Gingrich’s defense. His final line was the key: that the liberal media is out to get Republicans and will stop at nothing to destroy them is an absolute article of faith on the right. It’s why so many conservative leaders claimed that Herman Cain was the victim of a liberal smear when he was confronted with sexual harassment charges in November. Never mind that the conspiracy theory made no sense (why would liberals take down a candidate they’d love to face in the general election?); logic has little to do with this. Likewise, the left would be thrilled to face Gingrich next fall, but that didn’t stop Rush Limbaugh from arguing on Thursday afternoon that the Marianne Gingrich interview was part of a media plot to take out the former speaker.

What Gingrich did brilliantly on Thursday night is to articulate this paranoid victimhood in a clear and compelling (for his audience, at least) way. It’s the same basic trick he pulled in this week’s other debate, when he connected with another strain of the persecution complex: that honest, tax-paying Republicans are the victims of a dependency class of poor people and minorities that Democrats intentionally enable.

As Sullivan noted, Romney’s big moment was CNN’s ingenious digging up of a quote from his father about the virtues of showing you’re clean by releasing tax returns for 12 years, not just one. Would Mitt follow suit? ‘Maybe’. I shit you not:

that word – “maybe” – in answer to a direct and simple question is devastating.It not only makes him look shifty; it makes him look as if he doesn’t respect his own father’s honorable example. Just a dreadful few minutes for Romney.

Cohn:

What is in Mitt Romney’s tax returns? I have no idea, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s even more damning than speculation has suggested. Romney’s answers on the tax questions were rambling and unclear, which is remarkable for a candidate who is so intellectually sharp, who prides himself on careful preparation, and who had to know the question was coming. This issue has rattled him, obviously, and I’m eager to find out why.

Other than this, we had the usual mixture of lies about Obama turning America into a socialist nuthouse. I think we even reached a new low with Romney claiming Obama is taking away the rights of American citizens. Hmm. His main thought there is the sin of state-led healthcare, which got interesting when he had to talk about his own legislation, and defend that whilst condemning and vowing to repeal Obamacare, despite the latter being merely a federal copy of his own state-level plan.
The consensus seems to be that Santorum was runner-up, but that’s only because he was in bulldog mode whilst Mitt crumbled, and Ron Paul got sidelined as normal. The contrast, incidentally, now we’re down to 4 candidates and Paul stood on the side, was even more striking than before between 3 broadly textbook conservatives and a distinctively radical libertarian. But we never got onto foreign policy or Iran, and so the main meat of Paul’s position, his isolationism and realism about the financial limits of American hegemony, was kept off the table.
But Santorum doesn’t convince. He has none of the Gingrich swagger and arrogance, and throughout his attacks he carries a look on his face of that can only be described as fearful; he comes across as constantly nervous, not quite believing what he is saying, no moreso than when preposterously suggesting POTUS is ‘slashing’ defence spending because he doesn’t care about veterans. He even confessed he wouldn’t change anything about his campaign because he’s ‘amazed to be in the final four’. He thinks it’s the fucking X Factor.

But maybe nerves is better than Romney’s brand of bullshit.

Michael Crowley:

You could accuse Mitt Romney of murdering a drifter in Laredo and he’d respond with an attack on Obama.

ThinkProgress:

Romney says you vote for him because he’s “someone who’s lived in the real streets of America.” … Mitt says he “understands America’s values.” He’s also very familiar with the Cayman Islands’ tax laws.

Sigh. But at least Borowitz reports that Callista is happy:

I love these debates because they’re the only times I know for sure where Newt is.

On to Florida…

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