Are The GOP Debaters Foolish Enough to Take CNN's Bait?

So CNN's executives have let it slip (at least to Drudge*) that they are "going to let them just go at it" in what they are calling the "Republican Debate of the Year" tonight in South Carolina.

Let me translate

'We are going to do our damndest to get the candidates to go at each other and totally ignore Barack Obama.  We're going to ask those cute little questions like 'Governor Romney, with Speaker Gingrich standing right here, will you say to his face that he's the biggest son of a blah blah blah..... '

So please tell me, Republican candidates, that you are not foolish enough to fall for this.  Please?  No one has gained anything in this cycle in the debates by trashing other Republicans. (more on that later)

Quite the opposite in fact.  Consider the travails of Newt:

Gingrich had an unprecedented standing ovation from most of the crowd Monday night in a now famous exchange with Juan Williams.  To gain that kind of amazing response, Newt uttered not a single syllable about any of this GOP opponents. Instead, Newt overwhelmed the liberal Williams and his typical template with logic and history and power and passion and -- get this -- conservative principle! 

The response was amazing.  His standing ovation was so loud and universal that it had to include many folks who entered the hall supporting others instead of Gingrich.  This is not everyday stuff.  Not only that, but it gained Newt millions of dollars worth of accolades on Rush and Hannity and other talk shows the next day.  All of this has given him huge bumps in both national and S.C. polls.

And it worked because this is what the Republican base voters are so obviously craving.  That is why they responded so powerfully.  And in fact, Newt's other great moments -- on terror, local control of schools and unemployment compensation -- were all moments generated by a classic Gingrich lecture where conservatism simply over powered failed liberal prescriptions for these issues. 

Actually, if you go back through the 16 debates and track the big crowd moments, most of them result from Gingrich taking apart a liberal premise and usually a liberal questioner in the process.  It's the primary reason Gingrich went from around 5% support to 35- 45% a few weeks ago.  He didn't have any advertising to speak of.  It was all the debates and that was all about attacking liberalism and doing it very effectively.

Monday, the only time Gingrich mentioned another GOP candidate in any of these exchanges is when Ron Paul used left wing Code Pink logic on how to deal with terrorists and Newt slapped him down.  But the crowd roar was not at Paul being slapped down.  It was in response to another liberal sacred cow being skewered.

In other words, the problems we have in our country today are not the fault of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry or Ron Paul.  The problem is Barack Obama and the solution is removing him and as many liked minded members of congress as possible from office.  Period.

Why these candidates, and their consultants and strategists can't understand this is agonizing and symptomatic of a Washington culture that does not understand the nation it tortures.  The consultant class is largely from D.C. or at least "of" D.C.  Ironic is that when Rick Perry hired all of Newt's consultants away upon entering the race, Perry was at about 35% in the polls. His consultants have taken him right to about 6% now.  Meanwhile, Newt and Herman Cain (who never had hired any of the consultant class) soared. 

Conversely, the attacks in the debates have backfired.  Michelle Bachmann imploded when she went Bachmann Turn-Off Overdrive on Rick Perry over the HPV issue.  After making a legitimate point on parental control and a smaller point on crony capitalism, she should have let it go.  But no, she had to paint Perry as the next Joseph Mengele.  And it failed.  Her campaign went straight downhill from there and she never recovered.  She tried by being the attack dog in all of the debates, including her trite "Newt Romney" attack.  She limped away with barely 5% of her home state vote.

After the HPV attacks,  a wounded Perry made a few unforced errors -- including a pathetic exchange with Romney over who cut Mitt's grass.  Then we had the kindergarten food fight over what was -- or was not -- said in Mitt's book.  From two governors who want to be President? 

And there were numerous other exchanges like that and all of it was simply for the amusement of the media moderators.  And it is driven by an inside the beltway culture -- blind as it is -- that looks at all of this as a game instead of understanding that this is about the future of our Republic and whether it survives or not.

The voters, however, largely understand the gravity of the situation -- and once again are way ahead of most of the candidates and their consultants as well as the pundit class.  Thus, they respond on those occasions when the candidates figure it out as well.  On Monday night, Newt figured it out.  He put the Bain disaster behind him and re-focused on the problem: Barack Obama and liberalism.  He aimed, fired and scored several direct hits and might have saved his campaign in the process. 

Tonight he and all of the candidates have another opportunity to do the same.  There is the Keystone Pipeline issue just lying there for the taking, not to mention the recess appointments made by Obama and of course the NLRB assault on South Carolina is still a raw issue.

The candidate who ignores the CNN bait and his GOP opponents and focuses on the real problems will win this debate.  If none of them figure this out, we all lose and it's a win for CNN and Barack Obama.  You know that and I know that instinctively.  Why is this so hard to figure out?


The author is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and currently a senior consultant for an outside group supporting Newt Gingrich.

If you experience technical problems, please write to