Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on December 15th?

Tonight's debate had no especially memorable soundbites or gaffes. The candidates largely avoided attacking each other, with the exception of some extended duels between Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, and when various candidates criticized Ron Paul's foreign policy. Gingrich did well on many occasions, but he took heat from Bachmann on the millions Gingrich made from Freddie Mac.

Mitt Romney changed his strategy for the debate: He chose not to go on the offensive against Gingrich. Instead, Romney directed his energy toward bolstering his economic credentials and attacking Barack Obama. Apparently Romney is pleased by the effect his negative ads have had against Gingrich, so rather than taking on Gingrich during debates (where Gingrich is strong), Romney focused on building himself up.

Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman were irrelevant during the debate. Surprisingly, Perry didn't attack Romney or Gingrich. Bachmann, on the other hand, was on the attack constantly. She gained plenty of airtime by going one-on-one against Gingrich on both Freddie Mac and partial-birth abortion. Gingrich didn't bleed when he was bitten, but his answers on Freddie Mac were unconvincing. Bachmann probably scored more points by attacking Paul after Paul emphasized his lack of concern over Iranian nuclear weapons.

What was the result? Gingrich and Romney both did well; Gingrich had some difficulty handling Bachmann's attacks but also threw plenty of red meat to the base. There was no clear winner. However, the bigger picture is that the debates have been Gingrich's turf, while Romney's advantage has been with TV ads, campaign infrastructure, and establishment support, all of which have hurt Gingrich. Therefore, one might say that Gingrich needs to be a clear winner in the debates in order to keep up with Romney--especially if Romney is not hurt during a debate. As for the minor candidates, Paul's remarks on foreign policy may hurt him, and Bachmann might siphon a few votes from Gingrich.