Visual source: Newseum
The Republican presidential candidates squared off in their nineteenth primary debate yesterday and lo and behold, the pundits are a bit stunned that the conventional wisdom is proving to be a bit off the mark. Newt Gingrich continues to prove that his argumentative skills have a tendency to buckle under pressure, while Mitt Romney is building up quite a skill set of his own. Could the recent hire of one of Michele Bachmann’s top debate coaches and strategists, Brett O’Donnell, be the cause? On to the punditry…
[F]or the second time this week, Newt showed that his debate skills are massively overrated, particularly his ability to attack an opponent with clear vulnerabilities. And Mitt Romney demonstrated exactly how to go about carving up an overmatched opponent. This time, not even having a noisy audience to appeal to could save the former Speaker.
Romney’s hire of O’Donnell seems to be paying off in a big way. It looks like Romney’s finally been able to find out how to get under Gingrich’s skin and, as yesterday’s debate proved, when that happens, it really throws Gingrich off his game.
Michael Crowley looks at the $ 10 million investment in Gingrich by the nation’s eighth richest person, Sheldon Adelson:
I don’t believe we’ve ever seen a federal candidate who drew such a high proportion of his funding from a single donor. Adelson’s support is all the more unusual because the Vegas mogul swooped in to help his friend after Newt had been written off as a loser after his Iowa collapse; betting on Newt in early January, as Adelson did, seemed like putting your chips on green at the roulette table.
Still, you can also see Adelson’s support for Newt as the latest twist on a familiar story about the influence very rich people can exert on presidential politics–a story that gets updated and revised from time to time, but which, on some level, never really changes.
During yesterday’s debate, Gingrich proposed that a prize be offered to spark a race to the moon. Froma Harrop points out the hypocrisy of Gingrich’s proposal:
[W]here pray tell would the prize and encouragement money come from other than the taxpayers? And why does Gingrich suddenly say he wants a slimmer NASA? Not long ago, he co-wrote a piece saying that the “Obama administration’s (2011) budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration deserves strong approval from Republicans.”
To quote Yoda from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Hypocrisy and inconsistency are trademarks of Gingrich’s candidacy. Conor Friedersdorf examines why those twin faults haven’t doomed his candidacy among Republican primary voters:
Because his appeal is grounded in tribal solidarity — because what people like about him is his ability to lash out at the mainstream media, the cultural elite, and President Obama — he can stray from conservative orthodoxy and policy far more than any other candidate and still retain his support. It’s a more extreme version of what happened during the Bush era. Republicans elected the guy with whom they wanted to have a beer, and since they felt in their gut he was one of them, he spent years advancing an agenda that would’ve drawn cries of tyranny had a Democrat tried it.
Carter Eskew also looks at the nine lives of Newt:
Democrats tend to miss the Republican side of the populist coin: both sides have deep resentment and a desire to blow up the system, but for Democrats, it’s a system of financial privilege; for Republicans it is the elites in government that are dragging us down.
Up until this point, Gingrich has surged to the forefront of the Republican primary on that horse of anti-establishment rhetoric. That works great in soundbites, commercials and on the trail, but Romney’s aggressive posture during the last two debates is revealing that Gingrich’s anti-establishment stance is a farce. John Avlon thinks the marathon debate season is a good thing (for voters, that is):
With a slight too-cool-for-school groan and accompanying eye-roll, the argument goes like this: The debates have taken up too much time for the candidates and their campaigns; they distract from retail campaigning and fundraising; they give the media too much of a role in the voters’ vetting process. But I take a different view: The debates have been a valuable addition to this election cycle. [....] Expensive television ads, in contrast, seem to have lost some power of persuasion. This is a good thing — the debates have imposed an unprecedented degree of transparency and accountability on this GOP presidential race.