Analysis: Gingrich doesn’t get the victory in final Florida debate
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:47 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE — Newt Gingrich headed into Thursday night’s debate needing to reassert himself as the pugnacious upstart ready to take on the political establishment, whether they be Republicans or Democrats.
After a mediocre performance in the only other Florida debate on Monday night, the pressure was on Gingrich, since the former U.S. House speaker has long portrayed himself as the most skillful debater in the field.
He needed the Jacksonville debate, but it doesn’t appear he got the victory he wanted.
Romney was the clear winner -- not by a knockout, but certainly on points.
Repeatedly through the debate, Romney was the aggressor and used the forum to dismantle a number of a charges that Gingrich has been hurling at him.
Santorum again proved himself an effective advocate in a scenario where he trails the two front-runners in the polls and doesn’t have the resources to match their campaigns. But if Gingrich falters, it may be Santorum who will be the beneficiary in the coming primaries.
Romney was the most aggressive candidate throughout the two-hour debate, repeatedly taking shots at Gingrich, with some of the most effective continuing to tie the former speaker to his $1.6 million consulting contract with Freddie Mac, the troubled mortgage agency.
Romney said Gingrich’s decision to work for the agency was “an enormous mistake.”
“I think, instead, we should have had a whistle-blower and not horn-tooter,” Romney said.
Gingrich had fewer effective shots, but did tie Romney’s investments to the housing crisis in Florida. Gingrich said Romney had a financial interest in Goldman Sachs “which is today foreclosing on Floridians.”
“So maybe Gov. Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he’s made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments,” Gingrich said.
But while Romney and Gingrich were slugging it out, Santorum proved himself a very effective opponent, taking on both the front-runners at once.
“The problem with the answers from Congressman Gingrich and Gov. Romney is that, well, they didn’t always say what they’re saying,” Santorum said.
He cited Romney’s support of the Massachusetts health care plan, which he called a “government-run” system similar to the federal health care plan. He noted Gingrich had historically supported a mandate to have insurance.
Romney eviscerated Gingrich’s plan to put a space colony on the moon.
“If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, “You’re fired,” Romney said.
The moon issue drew one of the many effective lines in the debate from Ron Paul.
“Well, I don’t think we should go to the moon,” Paul said. “I think we maybe should send some politicians up there.”
Romney effectively beat back Gingrich’s claim that the former governor was “anti-immigrant” and was ready to deport grandmothers.
He called the charge “repulsive” and “the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.”
“You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers,” Romney said. “Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have.”
Romney also effectively dismissed Gingrich’s charge that he had invested in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, noting those investments had been made as part of a blind trust that he did not technically control.
He then turned to Gingrich and asked: “Have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
Gingrich offered a spirited defense of his plan to revive the American space program, brushing off Romney’s claim that he was traveling from state to state making big promises.
“I thought we were a country where one of the purposes of candidates going around was to actually learn about the states they campaigned in and actually be responsive to the needs of the states they campaign in,” Gingrich said.
He also said the moon project could be carried out if federal spending priorities were adjusted.
“It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country,” Gingrich said. “You don’t just have to be cheap everywhere.”
In one of the biggest flubs of the debate, Romney said he had nothing to do with a radio ad that claimed Gingrich had called Spanish the “language of the ghetto.”
“I doubt that’s my ad,” Romney said.
But CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer later read from the transcript of the ad, noting it ended with “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.”
In the debate, Gingrich retreated from his harsh attacks on Romney’s “self-deportation” comments, which he had labeled on the campaign trail as an “Obama-level fantasy.”
“I actually agree that self-deportation will occur if you’re single,” Gingrich said, although he said it was highly unlikely more established illegal immigrants would want to leave the country.
Romney didn’t like Santorum’s very effective and passionate criticism of his role in creating a health care plan for Massachusetts.
“First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about,” Romney said brusquely.
Gingrich refused to back down from his charge that Romney was the most “anti-immigrant” candidate.
“I think, of the four of us, yes,” Gingrich said.