The Final Florida Debate

In South Carolina, Gingrich owned the debates and kept Romney on the defensive. Romney fumbled over his responses on tax returns and came off as incredibly weak. The solid debate performance by Newt came at just the right time for him to score a decisive win in South Carolina. And now, Mitt Romney seems to be doing the same thing in Florida.

In the first Florida debate, Newt was off his game because the audience was silenced. His winning strategy in South Carolina was to embody the frustration of voters to thunderous applause, but with a silent audience, getting riled-up would seem inappropriate and out-of-place. And now in last-night’s debate, even back to the normal audience which is allowed to cheer, Newt’s performance was sub-par. Romney came out guns-blazing, and for the first time, was actually effective at attacking Newt and not allowing the attacks to blow-up in his face. Newt can usually get the last word to make Romney look bad, but Romney kept coming back and didn’t let that happen this time.

One aspect that worked to Romney’s advantage was that the audience was clearly on his side. In one moment, Romney called to stop attacking him because of his success or investments and stated that his accomplishments should be seen as an “asset to help America.” The crowd cheered, and when Newt responded that Romney should apply the same standard about personal attacks to the other candidates as well, there was audible booing. Gingrich had not changed—he gave a very Newt-esque answer which could have been given in any of the debates so far—stating that Romney’s attacks are inaccurate. My theory is that Newt held-back at attacking Romney for the rest of the debate because he didn’t want to be booed, thus crippling what he’s been known for in debates. This gave Romney some room to really double-down on his attacks. At the end of the debate, the audience was even chanting “Mitt! Mitt!”

There were a couple poor moments for Romney. The first was in response to a campaign ad of his which makes the claim that Gingrich calls Spanish the “language of the ghetto.” Romney was not familiar with the ad and doubted that it was from his campaign. His response when pressed on it was to ask Gingrich himself if he had said that. That’s an interesting approach—ask the man you’re attacking if the attack is true. Of course Gingrich claimed that the quote was taken “totally out of context.” It was later confirmed in the debate that it was an ad by the Romney campaign and includes the approval message from Mitt himself. Newt actually lumped this together with the fact that Romney didn’t know where some of his investments were (Romney’s defense: it was a blind trust) to make the claim that Romney seemed to be unaware of a few too many things.

In addition, Rick Santorum once again sparred with Romney over Obamacare/Romneycare, claiming that the two laws are incredibly similar. Santorum said that prices have gotten so bad in Massachusetts that people were opting to pay the fine for not having insurance rather than acquiring insurance. Romney denied those claims and was able to spin it well-enough (given that he can’t really escape this criticism) and said that he can at least prove that he cares about improving health care. The media really hyped Santorum’s performance last night, which I thought was strange. I feel like Santorum always does well and that his performance was no better or worse than other debates where they don’t talk about him. It’s always interesting to see what the general consensus is from the media versus how I see a debate.

To give Ron Paul a mention, he’s managed to become the comic relief of the debates. He has some very serious proposals, but he’s been injecting more humor in his answers lately, and that isn’t helping with his problem of not being taken seriously. Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall and is just having fun with these debates now. Romney now has the momentum on his side moving into the Florida primary.

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