» View our political blog, with live updates and analysis of the South Carolina primary.
CNN's John King began Thursday night's presidential debate with a blistering question straight at Newt Gingrich on his ex-wife's charge that he sought an open marriage as a solution to his adultery.
Gingrich struck back hard at King, and seemed to strike a chord with the audience, denying the story. The timing of the ABC interview with Marianne Gingrich, released earlier Thursday, seems calculated to provoke backlash. GOP voters do not like letting the media make their choices for them.
Rick Santorum hit hard on the idea that position reversals on health care and other issues disqualify Gingrich and Mitt Romney from challenging President Obama. Santorum was scathing on both, and made it clear he was not happy simply to be here. He ripped Romney and thehill.com/video/campaign/201421-gingrich-argued-for-individual-mandate-in-2008 Gingrich on individual mandates, and made the valid point that he is the only one of the group who has beat a Democratic incumbent (twice), and the only one who has won a swing state.
Gingrich strategically released his tax returns for this year, and John King asked Romney if he would follow his father's lead and release twelve years of tax returns. Romney struggled to hold his position, which is that he will release multiple years in April, but not before.
Romney also struggled to make the (valid) point that he wants to delay release to limit the opportunities for class warfare demagoguery. But now as earlier it's a hard case to make, and he did not make it especially well. Republicans who agree with the vast majority of economists (and most developed governments) on low capital gains tax will struggle to explain them when they see it in real life.
Ron Paul on more than one occasion was overlooked by King, and once the audience had to shout to make him give Paul a chance to respond, on abortion of all things. Paul ironically noted that as the only OB on the stage, he might have an opinion. Paul was bold and convincing on foreign trade, making the difficult argument that when jobs go overseas, sometimes the result is new markets.
On the internet piracy bill — recently brought to everyone's attention by Google and Wikipedia — all candidates opposed the bill, but Santorum sounded like he was very sympathetic to its objectives.
One of Romney's best moments was after Santorum had slammed Gingrich as an complacent insider, whereupon Gingrich rattled off an impressive resume of activism in Washington, D.C. Romney jumped in to point out that he wasn't in government at all. "We need to send to Washington someone who has not lived in Washington, but someone who's lived in the real streets of America," In a related later exchange, Romney defended his wealth, pointing out that he did not inherit anything and has nothing to apologize for.
Gingrich raised eyebrows with an open admission that he indulged in "grandiose" thinking, seemingly unaware that the meaning of the word is distinctly negative. The Romney camp did not miss a beat, releasing a list of Gingrich's "thoughts over the years."