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Hard-Hitting Debate in South Carolina Changes Nothing     Permalink

In the Republican debate last night in Myrtle Beach, SC, the second tier--that is, everyone but Mitt Romney--did a decent job of attacking Romney but it is probably "too little too late" to stop the clear front runner.

Newt Gingrich kept throwing red meat at the audience, which hungrily gobbled it up. He called Obama a "food-stamp President" and when called on that by moderator Juan Williams, he doubled down on it and got a standing ovation from the audience of 3,000. Once again, Gingrich has shown that attacking the media works well with Republicans, many of whom feel the media is against them (and Williams is a news analyst for Fox News!). In the unlikely event that he is the GOP nominee, he will quickly discover that this strategy does not work well in the general election.

Not to be outdone by Gingrich, Rick Perry put in his best performance of the season and seemed to suggest that the Civil War wasn't over yet when he said that South Carolina was at war with the federal government. The debate took place barely 100 miles from Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, and no doubt everyone in the state knew exactly what he meant. Restarting the Civil War may be a winner in South Carolina, but it is not going to fly when the primaries get to the northern states. But by then, Perry will be long gone. In fact, he might not make it to next Monday.

Rick Santorum scored one hit on Romney when the discussion turned to the issue of whether convicted felons (which everyone quietly understood to mean violent males) should regain the right to vote after finishing their prison sentences and parole. Santorum believes they should. Romney, trying to curry favor with conservatives, said violent offenders should never regain the right to vote. Santorum shot back at him asking how come as governor of Massachusetts he didn't lift a finger to repeal the state law allowing them to vote as soon as they were released from prison, even while on parole. But now that the social conservatives are all behind Santorum, this is the moment he has to break away from the pack and this performance may not be enough (although he gets another shot at Thursday's debate). If he wins South Carolina, he can stay in the race for a while but if he loses, unless the social conservative leaders who endorsed him this past weekend can back that up with lots of cash, it will be tough for him to continue.

Cranky old Ron Paul was still at it and the audience booed him when he said he wanted to apply the golden rule to foreign policy: "Don't do to other nations what we don't want them to do to us." One might think people in South Carolina wouldn't boo a principle Jesus espoused, but one would be wrong. If Paul would stop talking about foreign policy and just hone in on his economic views, he might be a serious candidate, but he won't so he isn't. As a note on the golden rule of foreign policy, earlier this week, Rick Perry defended the U.S. Marines who urinated on dead Taliban corpses, even though desecrating dead enemy soldiers is a violation of the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions of War. Paul no doubt remembers the incident in Fallujah in March 2004, when the Iraqis strung up the charred bodies of four Blackwater USA "contractors" (English translation: mercenaries) on a bridge--precisely the kind of desecration that the UCMJ and Geneva Conventions forbid.

In a way, the biggest winner of the debate was Barack Obama. When Romney was challenged about releasing his tax returns, he grudgingly said he'd probably do it come April. Now he is in a box. If he doesn't release them, Obama will hound him endlessly with "Your promises are meaningless." If he does release them, Obama will hire half a dozen forensic accountants to parse every line looking to find material to use against him. It is a safe bet that Romney has a world-class accountant do his tax returns and he probably has a lower effective tax rate than the average voter. If Obama goes full populist in the general election, an attack saying he doesn't begrudge Romney what he earned but thinks rich people ought to have the same tax rate as the average American is going to be a potent weapon. Maybe Romney's best strategy is to release his form 1040 and nothing else to minimize the damage, but there is a danger there of whetting the media's appetite for more detail.

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Previous headlines

Jan16 Huntsman Expected to Drop Out Today and Endorse Romney
Jan16 Why is the Republican Field So Weak?
Jan16 South Carolina Debate Tonight
Jan15 Social Conservatives Agree to Back Santorum
Jan13 Eleventh Commandment Repealed
Jan11 NH: Romney 39%, Paul 23%, Huntsman 17%, Gingrich 9%, Santorum 9%
Jan11 Charlie Cook: Redistricting is Politically Neutral
Jan10 Romney Leads Going into the New Hampshire Primary Today
Jan10 Gingrich Goes Negative in South Carolina
Jan08 Romney Survives Debate Unscathed
Jan08 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Jan05 Bachmann Drops Out
Jan05 Perry Hesitates, but Stays In
Jan05 Movement Conservatives Attempt to Find a Consensus Candidate
Jan04 Iowa: Romney 24.6%, Santorum 24.6%, Paul 21.4%, Gingrich 13.3%
Jan03 All Eyes on Iowa Today
Jan03 The Horse Race as a Horse Race
Jan01 Happy New Presidential Election Year
Jan01 Iowa Caucuses Are This Tuesday
Jan01 Final Selzer Poll: Romney and Paul on top but Santorum Rising
Dec16 No Fireworks in Final GOP Debate
Dec11 Romney Offers Perry a $10,000 Bet During Debate
Dec11 Where is Sarah Palin?
Dec11 The 2012 Contest: Whole Foods Clients vs. Cracker Barrel Shoppers
Dec07 Gingrich Way Ahead in Iowa
Dec07 Obama Gives Fiery Speech Attacking the Republicans
Dec07 Pelosi Backtracks on Releasing Dirt
Dec04 Herman Cain Drops Out
Dec04 Gingrich Pulls Away in Iowa
Nov29 Woman Accuses Cain of Long-Running Affair
Nov23 Romney's Extended Family Could be a Problem
Nov23 Republicans Ignore China, Eurocrisis in Debate on Foreign Affairs
Nov19 Newton Defies Gravity
Nov10 Perry Stumbles Badly in Debate
Nov09 Anti-Union Bill Repealed in Ohio
Nov09 Republicans May Take over Virginia State Senate
Nov09 An Egg is Not a Person in Mississippi
Nov06 Romney's Choice
Oct22 Cain First, Romney Real Winner in NV Straw Poll
Oct12 Mitt the Inevitable?

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