Mixed Debate Outcome in Myrtle Beach
Monday night's GOP debate in Myrtle Beach, SC probably will add points to Newt Gingrich's polling data, but it remains to be seen if he will generate the momentum change he needs to overtake Romney. As the frontrunner, Mitt was the principal focus of criticism, and avoided disaster while firing off the strongest national security declaration to pass his lips so far: "The right thing for Usama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received. That's the right thing for people who kill American citizens."
Fox News reports the exchange which generated this memorable moment, with Ron Paul espousing his customary foreign policy meta-theory:
"If another country does to us what we do others, we're not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in -- in foreign policy," he said. "Don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us. So we -- we endlessly bomb these countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?"
"Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are," he said. "These people declared war on us. They've killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them. And the right thing for Usama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received. That's the right thing for people who kill American citizens."
Dr. Paul's performance will no doubt please his fans, but I doubt it won many new adherents in South Carolina. He was booed when he proposed the goldern rule theory of world power relations. Romney clearly won the audience with his response. For his part, Newt was not to be outdone: David Espo of AP:
Gingrich drew strong applause when he said: "Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear idea about America's enemies. Kill them."
Oddest issue of the night: votes for felons. Santorum attacked a super-pac ad from Romney supporters, which portrayed a man in prison garb while mentioning Santorum's support for federal legislation restoring voting rights to felons who have served their terms and been discharged from parole. After sparring on the issue of candidate lack of control over super-pacs, Santorum played the race card, noting that voting rights for felons is an issue in the black community because of the disproportionate participation in the criminal justice system by blacks.
This is a surprising tack for GOP candidate to take in a nomination battle. It gave Romney the opportunity to proclaim that he does not want violent felons ever to vote, and Santorum in the odd position of advocating enfranchising a group that would vote Democrat as heavily as any demographic segment could, nearly 100%.
Gingrich also brushed off a race card issue, when discussing his proposal to fire janitors and put kids to work (for pay) maintaining their classrooms. The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Gingrich rejected liberal complaints that he was insensitive to minorities when he suggested that young schoolchildren work in their schools doing janitorial work.
Asked if he understood how minorities might be offended, he said simply, "No, I don't see that....Only the elites despise earning money."
Romney barely held his own, if that, on the issue of releasing his tax returns. David Espo of AP:
It was Perry who challenged Romney, a multimillionaire, to release his income tax returns. The Texas governor said he has already done so, adding he believes Gingrich will do likewise later in the week.
"Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money. ... We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now."
Later, a debate moderator pressed Romney on releasing his tax returns.
His answer was anything but crisp.
"But you know if that's been the tradition I'm not opposed to doing that. Time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I'm going to get asked to do that in the April time period and I'll keep that open," he said.
Prodded again, he said, "I think I've heard enough from folks saying look, you know, let's see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem and I'm happy to do so. I sort of feel like we're showing a lot of exposure at this point, and if I become our nominee and what's happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that's probably what I'd do."
Afterward, Gingrich said that wasn't good enough. "If there's nothing there, why is he waiting till April?" the former House speaker told reporters.
Bain was not entirely absent fromt he discussion. Josh Lederman, of the Hill:
Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry lunged into Romney over his record at private equity firm Bain Capital. Rick Santorum confronted Romney for refusing to stand up to a super PAC supporting him, then flipped his words and his record back on him. And Perry demanded Romney release his tax returns within the week.
Romney's record at Bain took a diminished level of flak:
The former House speaker and Perry led the assault against Romney's record at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought companies and sought to remake them into more competitive enterprises, with uneven results.
"There was a pattern in some companies ... of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or three having them go broke," Gingrich said. "I think that's something he ought to answer."
Perry referred to a steel mill in Georgetown, S.C. where, he said, "Bain swept in, they picked that company over and a lot of people lost jobs there."
Romney's response, reminding everyone that the American steel industry has been bloodied by imports, and his claim that Bain backed a modern and efficient new technology mill in Indiana, which is flourishing, demonstrated that he may have the moxie to turn around the Bain issue, and use it against Obama. The steel iundustry has been transformed by electric furnace technology, a phenomenon Romney undertsands and acts on, while Obama has no clue on the competitive dynamic of technology change. I am beginning to suspect that if Axelrod & Company decide to focus on Bain, they might be falling into a trap.
If he waffled on his tax returns, Romney took charge on format matters; Lederman of the Hill:
He also left no doubt he was aware of his role as the dominant figure in the race, telling moderators he would be taking a little more time to respond to an inquiry than the rules offered.
"I'll do it in the order that I want to," he said later, when pressed by Santorum to directly answer a question posed to him by the candidate.
On balance, I think momentum remains on Romney's side, though he would be wise to release his income taxes sooner than April or after securing the nomination. Perry scored a point reminding voters that it would be too late to change horses after the nomination is secured, and helped his cause. Santorum and Paul may have helped themselevs the least.