Santorum is accusing Romney and Paul of collusion in their attacks on him, but I don't buy it. Santorum has a "kick me" sign stuck to his backside and the other candidates are just obliging him.
The bad blood in the spin room was just a continuation of what took place in a mostly negative and downbeat night on stage. After the introductions, Romney's first opportunity to speak came when the moderator, CNN's John King, invited him to attack Santorum. Romney accepted the invitation. And the first thing he attacked Santorum for was "voting for raising the debt ceiling five different times without voting for compensating cuts."
Having lost his run for Senate in 1994, Romney has never had to vote for or against raising the debt ceiling. But he has many present and former members of the House and Senate who speak on his behalf in this campaign, and they have voted to raise the debt ceiling. And there aren't many Romney observers who don't believe that, had he served for years on Capitol Hill, he too would have voted to raise the debt ceiling. After the debate, a top Romney supporter here, Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, explained that in the most recent debt debate Romney, had he been in Congress, "would have insisted on some kind of spending cuts" to go along with a debt limit increase. Flake, a solid fiscal conservative who has nonetheless sometimes voted to raise the debt ceiling, conceded there have been such spending-restraint deals in past debt ceiling increases, but none worked very well.
Romney also attacked Santorum for voting for earmarks. When Santorum pointed out that Romney, as head of the 2002 Olympic Games in Utah and again as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, asked for lots of federal earmarks, Romney defended the Olympic request and ignored the part about his record as governor.
I haven't seen any viewer numbers from last night, but I will bet it was the least watched debate out of the 20 that have taken place. Even GOP voters are tired of the nastiness, the exaggeration, the low blow, and the unwarranted attacks. At some point, the people simply tune out what they don't like about politics and either sit out the election or vote for the other guy. Whoever wins is going to have a hard time pivoting in a believable way to a more positive message and an all out assault on Obama.
The attacks are self-defeating but are done because the few voters who tune in might be persuaded one way or another. Thankfully, this is the last time we'll have to endure this ridiculous format.