Saturday, December 10, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on December 10th?

If Newt Gingrich's rivals hoped to crush him during tonight's debate, they did not succeed. Gingrich was finally criticized and challenged during this debate, and he repelled the attacks ably. In some one-on-one exchanges, Mitt Romney had the edge over Gingrich. If the race becomes an extended two-man fight between the two, Romney may have the advantage in one-on-one debates. For now, however, the debates are clearly not going to destroy Gingrich's momentum.

Michele Bachmann likely benefited from extra air time, as she always seemed to be in the middle of an attack against another candidate. Bachmann took over Herman Cain's role as the representative of the Tea Party.

The biggest loser of the night was Jon Huntsman, who was not even invited to the debate. Earlier this year, we answered the question of how they decide who gets invited to debates. The invitations are based on poll numbers, and Huntsman didn't meet the new threshold. After all these months, Huntsman has not been able to get his poll numbers high enough to remain on stage--even Rick Santorum is polling better. It's impossible for a candidate to compete under those conditions, so Huntsman is finished.

As for specifics, one moment that will probably get some media attention was when Rick Perry challenged Romney on the issue of Romneycare. Although one might expect all the candidates to team up against Gingrich--who is heavily favored in the polls--Perry acted as though it were the middle of September, attacking Romney. During a dispute about what Romney wrote about the individual mandate in his book, Romney challenged Perry by asking if he would bet $10,000 on it. Perry hesitated, and Romney claimed victory. Since one of Romney's vulnerabilities is being seen as too wealthy and out of touch with regular Americans, it was a definite gaffe.

Romney performed better in his exchanges with Gingrich; Romney managed to criticize Gingrich and some of Gingrich's odd ideas (like a lunar base) without appearing negative. In response, Gingrich went negative against Romney and was booed by the audience. Perhaps the best illustration of the contrast between the two men was the issue of Gingrich's controversial remark about the Palestinians being "an invented people." Romney emphasized that he was the more sober candidate, while Gingrich claimed to be someone who would tell the truth even if it "caused some confusion."

The debate moderators decided to ask each of the candidates about marital fidelity. Obviously this was aimed at Gingrich's multiple affairs and failed marriages. The other candidates emphasized the importance of faithfulness. Gingrich's turn came last, and he gave a good answer about finding redemption for his past mistakes.

The media's conclusion is likely to be that Gingrich's rivals failed to deliver a "knock-out punch" against Gingrich. Clearly, Gingrich's opponents will need to find another way to tear his candidacy down if they intend to defeat him.