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The South Carolina showdown

OK, folks, here we go. With Gingrich and Romney even in South Carolina, according to some polls, [1] this is going to be a hugely consequential debate.

Romney hits early, talking about what a family man he is — knowing that the Marianne Gingrich bombshell is going to fall later tonight. Newt reminds the South Carolina crowd that he is a fellow Southerner.

UPDATE: Newt on the open marriage. He’s making this about the news media. “I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that,” he growls at John King. Standing ovation from the partisan audience.

Gingrich says asking this question “is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.” Really? Closer to despicable than asking your first wife for a divorce while she was in her hospital bed, as Gingrich did so he could marry his mistress Marianne?

“I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” he said. The Limbaugh line. Brilliant — but, well, despicable.

UPDATE.2: I’ve just seen that the Gingrich divorce story isn’t wholly true [2]. The divorce was in the works before his hospital visit. It’s not clear what he said in the hospital.

UPDATE.3: I don’t understand why Romney is continuing to go after Barack Obama. If he hopes to face Obama down this fall, he’s got to get through Gingrich first. He gave a rhetorically strong answer, defending “capitalism.” But if Romney had any sense, he would remind people that Gingrich’s Super PAC produced the Michael Moore-like video attacking Romney. Romney’s lines defending capitalism are powerful, but he’s missing an opportunity to hang the anti-capitalist albatross around Gingrich’s neck.

Good Reagan Democrat lines from Santorum: “I believe in capitalism for everybody … capitalism that works for the working men and women of this country.”

UPDATE.4: We’re half an hour into this debate, and Romney is pretty much inert versus Gingrich. True, Gingrich hasn’t attacked him, but Gingrich has momentum now. What’s his thinking here? I don’t understand it. What is Romney afraid of? Or perhaps more relevantly, given his calculating, disciplined nature, what is he thinking? I’m not seeing the ads airing in South Carolina; is it the case that he thinks his paid media will do the dirty work for him in SC, while he can maintain a cleaner image nationally via this televised debate? What do you think?

UPDATE.5: Michael Brendan Dougherty says the debate is over and Gingrich won [3] with that fiery response. Excerpt:

It was obvious that Gingrich was ready for the question, and absolutely ready to pounce all over it. The surprise here is that his accusation that the media makes it “harder to govern” this country, and harder to attract “decent” people was so easily swallowed by the audience from a twice-divorced, two-timer like Newt Gingrich.

Santorum is on fire against Romney and Gingrich on the health care question. Clearest, crispest thing I’ve heard him say in ages.

UPDATE.6: MBD tweets: [4]

It’s pathetic that conservatives are cheering a twice-adulterer implying to them than HE’S the decent one.

UPDATE.7:  I’m not entirely clear on something. Is Ron Paul suggesting that we redeploy US soldiers to bedpan duty for Medicare recipients?

UPDATE.8: Why does Gingrich think that his starting a healthcare lobbying outfit makes him an expert on healthcare?

UPDATE.9: Santorum: “Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. … I don’t want a nominee that I have to open the morning papers worrying about what he’s going to say next.”

More: “I’m steady, I’m solid, I’m not going to go out there and do things that you’re going to worry about.” Excellent. Santorum identifies the big worry about Gingrich. He’s got to hit on this harder if he wants to have a shot.

Gingrich had an effective response, including: “You’re right: I think grandiose thoughts. This is a big country with big people doing big things.”

Santorum a great retort: “Four years into his leadership, he was thrown out by the conservatives.” Santorum reminds people that he was in the House working with Gingrich, and saw, “No discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together.” And he rips the hell out of Gingrich for his flawed Congressional leadership. Very, very strong stuff.

But Gingrich is unbowed. “I think long before Rick came to Congress, I was busy being a rebel… .”

Santorum gave it a great shot, and what he says is true. But Gingrich, being shameless, probably did okay.

Good grief, Romney, Santorum gave you a terrific opening to savage Gingrich, but all you can come up with are these idiotic robo-lines about needing a non-Washington person to be president! Look, there’s a great Romney line about how Gingrich didn’t show up in the Reagan diaries, which belies Gingrich’s claim to have been a big Reaganite — but Romney stepped on his own line. He’s awful.

UPDATE.10: Gingrich is rocking hard tonight. Unless the Marianne interview is a blockbuster — and Newt has done a good a job as he can insulating himself among GOP primary voters — I think he’s going to win South Carolina. Romney can’t lay a glove on him. Romney looks so weaselly on the tax return question, and he is weaselly on this issue.

UPDATE.11:  Newt, terrifically sarcastic on the SOPA question: “You’re asking a conservative about the economic interests of Hollywood.” And then he gives a good political answer about being for “freedom.” Gingrich is walking away with this thing tonight.

Santorum makes a decent point that property rights are important. His statement that the idea that the Internet ought to be a free for all is nuts surely comes out of the way he has been so disgustingly abused by Dan Savage’s internet campaign against him.

UPDATE.12: John Podhoretz tweets: [5]

Not watching but based on what I’m reading, how is it that Romney has spent 5 years running without a strategy for talking about being rich?

UPDATE.13: Romney is such a tool, saying he wish he had talked about his opponents less and Barack Obama more. What a smarmy answer. Does he even realize he is in a race against Newt Gingrich? Does he realize that Gingrich is kicking his butt tonight?

UPDATE.14: Ron Paul is a non-entity tonight.

UPDATE.15: If Santorum had been as good earlier in this race as he’s been in these last two debates, he might have gotten a lot further by now. If he had whiffed tonight, I’d say it was a huge win for Newt. But he’s been good. I still believe that Gingrich wins this thing, because he’s had the applause lines tonight. This comment from an Andrew Sullivan reader [6]caught my eye, though:

You know, in the end, Santorum just doesn’t have the balls to duke it out with Gingrich and Romney. He gets out there and throws that big first shots and they’re good ones, but when he gets hit back, he starts to falter a little. You can see it in his body language. Newt and Romney throw their usual bullsh*t at him and it’s bullsh*t, but they do it with their usual arrogance and ego and it starts to overwhelm Santorum. He’s not long for this race.

UPDATE.16: I think Romney’s answer on the pro-life point was acceptable. But why on earth doesn’t he round on Newt? Santorum was terrific on the abortion question, both against Romney and Gingrich.

UPDATE.17: Good for the audience, forcing John King to let Ron Paul answer the abortion question. “Law will not correct the basic problem, and that’s the morality of the people” — Ron Paul, making a useful point.

I don’t agree with Paul’s view on abortion rights, but I do appreciate very much his consistency on Constitutionalism.

UPDATE.18: Gingrich’s final statement was completely hysterical and absurd, but as a matter of GOP primary politics, he made an effective case for why he’s the man to go up against Obama, not the uncertain Romney. Understand, I think Gingrich would be a disastrous candidate against Obama, but if one is voting on heart, not head, Gingrich wins.

Santorum made a very strong case for himself, as the kind of candidate who can win the Reagan Democrats.

OK, debate over, and here’s my quick take: Romney lost badly. But because Santorum and Gingrich were equally good, it might well have meant a Romney win on election day — this, if it divides the anti-Romney vote. Because Gingrich has the momentum, I have to think he helped himself the most tonight. I think he did a terrific job insulating himself with GOP voters against the Marianne bombshell — and that’s going to be the biggest talking point of the next news cycle.

CNN just going through a highlights reel right now. There were a number of powerful lines from Santorum and Gingrich. All the Romney highlights are unfavorable to himself. I just can’t see anybody who is for Romney being excited about this cat.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "The South Carolina showdown"

#1 Comment By MIke On January 19, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

I wonder if Romney has decided that by staying above the fray, he will win the moderates and Independents who exist beyond the Jesus primaries in Iowa and South Carolina. He has Florida ahead of him where socially liberal Cuban exiles and military families will appreciate him staying above the circus debates with Gingrich and Santorum.

#2 Comment By Hope On January 19, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

This debate is going really badly for Mittens.

#3 Comment By Polichinello On January 19, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

Romney doesn’t need to out- Gingrich Gingrich. It’s better to let Santorum take votes from him. It keeps his opposition divided.

#4 Comment By Peter H On January 19, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

New Gingrich slogan: If you want to stick it to the liberal media, vote for me.

#5 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On January 19, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

I love the Mittens moniker for Romney. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me had a great riff on it recently.

#6 Comment By TTT On January 19, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

If Newt Gingrich were elected President and at some point during his term a tornado killed 2,000 people in Oklahoma, how would he blame the media for it?

#7 Comment By Jeremy On January 19, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

What Ron Paul said about the federal government not being the proper vehicle to put a stop to abortion made me think. Wasn’t the same constitutional argument used in the 1860’s to suggest that the federal government should not step in to stop slavery? That whether it was wrong or not the states had a right to determine the issue for themselves? I think from a strictly legal standpoint the argument is probably correct, but I don’t think that abolition was a mistake. Isn’t the slaughter of millions of unborn children an issue catastrophic enough to warrant intervention at the federal level?

I like Ron Paul a lot, and I voted for him (in NH). But I think disagree with him on this one (and it’s a big one).

#8 Comment By G-diddy On January 19, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

Rod, how do you not agree with Ron Paul’s stance on abortion? Dude is thoroughly pro-life. Read up on it: [7]

#9 Comment By Thomas S. On January 19, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

Ron Paul views the problem of abortion and “big government” as one issue. Abortion was illegal in many States prior to Roe v. Wade, but then the Federal government via. the Supreme Court got involved and overruled those bans. Here in Louisiana, we have a trigger-provision that would outlaw it should Roe v. Wade be overturned. If Ron were elected, that would happen.

#10 Comment By Noah On January 19, 2012 @ 10:14 pm


Slavery was abolished through a constitutional amendment. Ron Paul is not against amending the Constitution; rather, he is against ignoring it and legislating in defiance of it. On slavery, he has said it would have been better for the country if the practice had been eradicated through the purchase of slaves from their owners by the federal government. In light of the 625,000 soldiers (and untold thousands of civilians) who died in the Civil War, as well as the money frittered away therein, he makes a valid, even deeply moral, point.

G-diddy is right. Ron Paul has a solid pro-life record. And BTW, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the regulation of abortion would return to the states; many would surely keep abortion legal, perfectly democratically.

Ron Paul is not perfect, but he stands out as the most genuinely, humbly Christian of all the candidates.

#11 Comment By WhollyRoamin On January 19, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

Newt for Veep! He’s just the man for the attack-dog policy-generalist that the Vice President office fits so well.

And I second R V Gleason’s suggestion for cardgirls. Please add that in the future. Thank you in advance.

#12 Comment By Geoff G. On January 19, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

His statement that the idea that the Internet ought to be a free for all is nuts surely comes out of the way he has been so disgustingly abused by Dan Savage’s internet campaign against him.

Let us not forget that it was Santorum who opened that particular Pandora’s box. He doesn’t get a free pass on his own disgusting abuse simply because he failed to judge when it was going out of style.

#13 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On January 19, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

Plus SOPA and PIPA wouldn’t stop people from Google bombing anyway, so Santorum’s Google problem would remain.

#14 Comment By Ian On January 19, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

There were numerous attempts to end slavery through a purchase. Lincoln could not even get Delaware, which only had a few thousand slaves, to agree to a compensated emancipation. Paul, at the very best, is being completely ignorant when he claims that compensated emacipation was an option. A more cynical view is that Ron Paul believes that it would have been better that slavery continued for another 30-50 years rather than end when it did. Southern slave holders where commited to slavery, and the economic benifits that they obtained from it. The choice was eventual war, or the continued subjegation of african americans. There is nothing valid moral about Ron Paul’s thoughts on this issue.

#15 Comment By cecelia On January 19, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

I can’t believe this is what passes for the best we have to possibly lead this country.

#16 Comment By brians On January 19, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

Ian, your entire comment is horsesh*t. Slavery ended in Europe in the 19th century without the deaths of 600,000 young men. Any suggestion that the Civil War was the humane course of action is downright ignorant of history, and downright evil.

#17 Comment By TTT On January 19, 2012 @ 11:37 pm


About four years ago the far right ridiculed many of us for perceiving Barack Obama as some sort of messiah. And after watching and comparing these four idiots tonight, I’ve come to the not irrational conclusion that Obama is a messiah.

#18 Comment By Scott On January 19, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

I understand and accept why many on the right despise the so-called elite media — as if Newt is not an elite himself — but I fell to understand why blasting the media is a trait they seem to desire in a presidential candidate. and . . . Ron Paul, the tiny-government boat has sailed. The federal government might can be downsized some, but we’re not going back to what you want nor are we going back to the gold standard. get over it.

#19 Comment By William Dalton On January 20, 2012 @ 12:50 am

When the Civil War started, it wasn’t about the abolition of slavery, it was about compelling the seceding states back into the Union. And Lincoln offered to enshrine slavery permanently into the Constitution if the South would comply. They wouldn’t, and eventually he needed to turn the war into a crusade to end slavery in order to sustain the North in the effort to perservere to victory. Paul is right – it would have been better had a plan been adopted to purchase the slaves’ emancipation (although that would have meant deporting them to Africa) and the states eventually outlaw the practice throughout the Union without doing violence to the Federal principle behind the Constitution – Washington should be given power only to settle disputes among the states and with foreign powers – not battles over how states should be permitted to settle their own internal affairs.

That is also true of abortion, unless you think there should be national legislation defining degrees of murder and manslaughter, the elements of each, permissible defenses, punishments, etc. It was never intended that the Constitution, or the framework of the Union itself, ever be made the vehicle for imposing national standards of justice for what are personal affairs and personal offenses. This is especially true today, when there is no public consensus on what constitutes an abortion, much less upon what circumstances would justify its permission. That any state can legislate on the subject to the general satisfaction of its populace should be regarded as an achievement for those on both sides of the debate. But our nation’s forty years of conflict on the issue, not as intense as that which developed over slavery but certainly as enduring, should be for generations to come Exhibit A for the principle that social legislation must derive from culture and that we are a Federal Republic for the very reason that our nation’s size encompasses many diverse cultures and therefore incapable of generating and enforcing a single set of social norms.

#20 Comment By JonF On January 20, 2012 @ 6:12 am

Re: What Ron Paul said about the federal government not being the proper vehicle to put a stop to abortion made me think. Wasn’t the same constitutional argument used in the 1860′s to suggest that the federal government should not step in to stop slavery?

Generally speaking the states are the proper vehicle for detremining criminal law. We mostly don’t have federal statutes overriding state laws on murder, theft, rape, etc except where interstate activities are involved (e.g., kidnapping across state lines). And we didn’t have a federal statute on abortion before 1973. If we ended Roe vs Wade (yes, I believe we should), abortion would go back to being a state law matter, and I believe that’s right and proper.

Re: On slavery, he has said it would have been better for the country if the practice had been eradicated through the purchase of slaves from their owners by the federal government. In light of the 625,000 soldiers (and untold thousands of civilians) who died in the Civil War, as well as the money frittered away therein, he makes a valid, even deeply moral, point

A valid point in theory, but one that ignores real world history. The Southern slave-owners would not have feed their slaves if Jesus himself had offered them mountains of gold and gems in exchange. In early 1865, with the CSA on its deathbed, Lincoln offered the CSA a deal whereby the war would end, the CSA would rejoin the Union and the slaves would be freed with full compensation. Even with the handwriting on the wall the CSA turned it down flat. Please never forget that the Civil War was brought to us by the slave-owners and only by them. One might as well muse on what would have happened if the Nazis had satisfied themselves with reviving the German economy and not gone on a conquest and genocide spree. Sure, nice idea, but that’s not what they were all about.

#21 Comment By Ian On January 20, 2012 @ 8:58 am

Heck, Lincoln could not convince the border states that remained in the Union to agree to compensated emancipation. European emancipation when only possible due to the low number of slaves in Europe, and lack of a large economic impact from emancipation. Slavery was too large a part of southern culture and the southern economy for the south to give it up peacefully.

#22 Comment By Tom S On January 20, 2012 @ 9:08 am

Let’s also remember that legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act had already placed the federal government into states’ affairs…on the side of the slaveholders.

#23 Comment By brians On January 20, 2012 @ 9:09 am

JonF, that’s simply not the case. The Civil War – like all American wars since – was brought to us by industrial greed – The CSA wanted to preserve it’s wealth with slave labor, and northern industrialists wanted to preserve their trade monopoly with Europe. Without the competition for trade, without the CSA’s (much) lower tariffs, Lincoln never could’ve amassed enough support to invade his own country.

Ian, my earlier comment was intemperate, and I apologize.
But – the war simply wasn’t the humane solution. To believe so puts you in the same camp as Santorum, Gingrich, Bush, Romney, and Obama. As Mr. Berry says, our only defense may be no weapons at all. We”re faced with the choice to love our enemies or die.

#24 Comment By Josh Brown On January 20, 2012 @ 9:23 am

I absolutely stand against abortion. That being said, I feel like an outright ban on abortion would put us one step closer to Ceaucescu’s Romania, where all contraceptives and abortion was banned. The result being that many back-alley abortions were performed and both mother and child(ren) were lost. Apparently there was a report that a nation in Africa (can’t remember exactly) banned abortion and was suffering many of the same problems.

And, honestly, the issue of abortion is a symptom of a greater ailment, that being a familial and societal breakdown. At least, that’s how I see it. The ultimate manifestation of the me-first mentality. If we want abortion to fade out of existence, we must focus on the societal aspect rather than forcing it out through a law that forces a behavior. We all see how well that works out. This especially holds true for Christians. Society is sick because they have no reconciliation. That is the ministry of all believers.

#25 Comment By Noah On January 20, 2012 @ 9:55 am


You make a good point, but only by focusing narrowly on the period leading up to and during the Civil War. By 1860, the slavery debate was irredeemably poisoned by decades of bitterness. Had statesmen of previous decades been serious about discussing and implementing some sort of gradual emancipation (and probably repatration) effort, the crisis of 1860 could have been avoided. A cautionary tale to us about delaying pressing problems to another generation, and another….

Nineteenth-century Brazil was every bit the slave society as the antebellum South, even more so, and yet slavery was gradually abolished there, over a period of about two decades, peacefully and largely in an orderly fashion.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 20, 2012 @ 10:07 am

Defending capitalism might play to parts of the Republican base, and even appeal to the Jon Corzine Democrats, but it won’t be a winner in the general election. Capitalism has not been working well for the working men and women of this country. It didn’t under Reagan — who for all his rhetoric presided over millions of layoffs and a vast expansion of the inner-city drug culture, and it hasn’t been looking good since the bust of 2007-2009. Gingrich is enough of an opportunist to recognize that, even as he rants out the other side of his mouth that workers are paid too much. Romney may get a lock on the nomination, but his story will make him toast in the fall.

#27 Comment By JonF On January 20, 2012 @ 4:47 pm


I don’t think there was a point anywhere in American history when God Himself could have convinced the slave owners to give up their slaves even with generous compensation. Sure, in the late 1700s a few wise men like Washington and Jefferson realized they had a tiger by the tail– and they could neither hold it forever nor let it go. Others even at our founding were adamant that slavery be protected. South Carolina refused to join the Revolution without guarantees that it would not touch slavery– and the colony even demanded a special exemption from the colonists’ embargo on trade with Britain so it could continue to sell its slave-farmed wares abroad. And once the black lands were opened, the industrial revolution had seized on cotton as the fabric of choice, and King Cotton sat his throne, the die was cast and the Fates began measuring out those 600,000 threads to be cut short. James Madison, in his last years, sought to limit the power of the tidewater Virginia slave-holders in the state legislature to the benefit of the free-holders in the western counties– and he failed and died in scorn and disgrace due to the opprobrium heaped on him by the outraged men of his class.

As for Brazil, that was a different situation. The highest echelon of Brazilian society and the one which held political power was not the sugar planters. It was a bunch of transplanted Portuguese aristocrats, notably the ruling Braganzas themselves. They maintained ties with the homeland and they had absorbed European disapproval of slavery by the later 1800s. One of the leaders of the Brazilian abolition movement was Crown Princess Isabella. Brazilian slavery ended because the people at the top did not support it and finally imposed an end to it.

#28 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 20, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

Here I go agreeing with Noah again… at least partly. Until the southern states seceded from the union, of which the Constitution of the United States of America was the supreme law of the land, the federal government did nothing to end slavery in any state. The Republican Party did not propose to interfere with slavery in any state either. It proposed to limit slavery to the states in which it existed, and not allow it to spread into any new territory — all of which was federal territory, until such time as it was formed into states, and the state’s constitution and admission approved by the federal government, as provided for by the constitution.

Slavery became a federal issue, initially, only in terrain then in rebellion, and only as to slaves owned by persons in rebellion. As General Butler observed, property of rebels in arms is contraband of war. As General David Hunter said “This department does not have a policy of arming fugitive slaves. We do however have a very find regiment of men whose late masters are fugitive rebels.” And while the constitution was ultimately amended to prohibit slavery, that was only politically feasible as a result of four years of bitter war. Nobody did more to make this possible than Robert E. Lee, because if secession had been crushed early, there would have been on 13th amendment.

Not only would the confederacy not accept reunification with compensated emancipation, Lincoln could not even get his own cabinet to agree on proposing it. He pointed out that the total cost would be about what the war was costing every four months, but that didn’t sway anyone.

What does all this have to do with abortion? Nothing. Zip. Nada. There is no federal statute imposing any policy as to abortion on the states. There is a sound application of broad constitutional liberties, restraining the states from imposing upon the rights of individuals to make their own decision, free from interference by the police power. I could just as well argue that pregnant women are “enslaved” when the law requires them to carry a pregnancy to term against their will. Each cause needs to rise or fall on its own merits, not by wrapping itself in the mantle of long-settled issues that everyone now agrees on, by and large, but which were bitterly contested at the time they were live issues.

PETA is not fighting the civil rights movement, neither are the advocates of gay marriage, and the pro-life movement is not not the modern abolition movement. Also, green is not the new black, nor is red the new green.