The Fox News South Carolina debate and GOP race was blown apart by two brilliant performances last night from Texas Governor Rick Perry, & former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Both men turned in factual, solid, cool and collected performances. What was also noticeable about the night wasn’t so much that both men attacked establishment favourite Mitt Romney, it was the manner in which the former Massachusetts Governor fell apart all on his own. Romney must have been glad that Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s consistent approach on foreign policy proved its usual unpopular self with the attending audience.
The sharpest contrast that was highlighted between Gingrich, President Obama and Mitt Romney was the desperately worrying fashion in which the conservative media and establishment favourite Romney fell apart. Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen; this was a train wreck of a performance by Governor Romney, which in a national debate with President Obama would certainly have secured another four years for the current incumbent.
The former governor of Massachusetts faced tough questions over negative campaigning and his failure to release his tax returns and fell apart on a seemingly straight forward question on hunting. The biggest damage to Romney was how many lines of questioning Perry, Gingrich and Rick Santorum opened on Romney during the course of last night’s debate, and how ineffective he was in closing them off or responding to them.
Only if Rick Perry had of turning in debate performances like last night four months ago, this race could look very different now. Perry has some good sound bites like, “South Carolina is at war with this federal government!” Perry’s masterstroke was when he challenged Romney to release his tax returns; Romney was very visibly hesitant and awkward in his response. Perry also argued forcefully against cuts to military spending and condemned the administration’s condemnation of the Marines caught urinating on Taliban corpses
Santorum challenged Romney over his Super Pac’s attack ad on Santorum’s voting record over felon rights, Santorum, went for the jugular demanding that Romney say where he stood on the issue. When Romney said he did not believe “people who committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote,” Santorum pointed out that Massachusetts under Romney had even more lenient rules for felon enfranchisement than the ones Santorum supported. “If in fact you felt so passionately about this, why didn’t you try to change that when you were governor?” he asked. Romney’s response was weak and those watching knew it. Santorum however, had his mantle as the challenger to Romney stolen very firmly away from him last night by Speaker Gingrich, and it showed in the post-debate interview with Sean Hannity when he seemed to lose his composure.
Gingrich was pressed into his best debate performance of the season by the Juan Williams over his comments calling President Obama “A Food Stamp President.” in a brilliant response littered with the very best elements of the concept of the American Dream. The excellent Juan Williams, who asked many thought provoking questions all night asked: “Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?”
“No. I don’t see that,” Gingrich replied. Gingrich argued that many children could learn good vales and the value and respect of having a paying job as opposed to the employment of one expensive janitor in New York, “they’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor.”
“New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union,” Gingrich said. “You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library.”
“They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor,” he added. “Only the elites despise earning money.”
Williams stressed that some had perceived Gingrich’s comments about child labour, as well as remarks he made this month singling out blacks when speaking about food stamps, as offensive to poor people and racial minorities.
“The suggestion that he made was about a lack of work ethic,” Williams said. “And I’ve got to tell you, my e-mail account; my Twitter account has been inundated with people of all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.”
“You saw some of this during your visit to a black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you refer to President Obama as ‘the food stamp president,'” Williams continued. “It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people.” Williams’ points resulted in loud boos from the audience.
“Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Gingrich said to applause. “Now, I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”
“I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness,” he said. “And if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job.” Gingrich’s response was met with a standing ovation from many in the audience.
I’ve maintained throughout the last few months that Romney, is not strong enough under pressure or on foreign affairs. These weaknesses again came rushing to the front and if Gingrich wanted to press home his advantage last night, he easily could’ve done it.
Above all, I was pleased that despite a huge concerted effort by the conservative media and establishment, to anoint Romney this weekend in South Carolina, the ordinary viewer and supporter observed saw for themselves how weak a front runner Governor Romney actually is. People should not dismiss President Obama, and the scale of the challenge facing any GOP nominee in an election.
You will hear a lot of attempts in the coming days from media commentators saying,” Gingrich can’t win in the General election”. Ignore their efforts; this 2012 election has to be about issues, ideas and solutions. If the American people go for personality, the election is already a foregone conclusion. Only the voters and your average American person can make it about the issues that matter to them, jobs, the economy, health, housing and security.