Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Arizona GOP Debate

AP Photo from the Net
Last night's GOP debate was interesting on a number of levels.   First, as Governor Christie commented Senator Santorum had a terrible night.   Christie argued that Santorum brought out the problem legislators face in making decisions to (as former Speaker Sam Rayburn used to say) "to get along, go along."   In several exchanges during the evening Santorum tried to defend decisions he had made that violated core principles of his.  One of the remarkable answers he gave was his support for federally funded "abstinence" programs.  Indeed, at one point he made the pointed statement that conservatives pointed out problems but then did not feel it necessary that every problem would be solved with the creation of a government program.  But then he said he voted for a bill that provided support for contraceptive services but helped to create a new program which funded "abstinence" programs.   It did not occur to him that their might not be a good reason to have the federal government fund either program.   He also got hit for supporting former Senator Arlen Specter in his re-election bid against a more conservative Pat Toomey.   A couple of times the former senator got mired in the weeds on things like earmarks.  He also supported No Child Left Behind, even though it assailed his conscience.

Romney's performance was opposite Santorum's - it was superb.  He took an odd question from John King and turned it into a stunning defense of conscience clauses including references to the President's recent attempt to require Catholic charities to offer parts of their health plans that violate fundamental church doctrine and the recent Hosanna Tabor case (on whether the government has the ability to define who a minister is).   He also seemed at ease.  He began, for the first time I have seen in this season, to begin to make a case why he should be president.  There is still some to go here - but it was progress.

From my view Gingrich seems to have reverted into the role of a professor who knows he will not win the nomination.  His key ability has always been to develop large themes was shown again.  I almost felt that Newt was there to help guide the process.  He's lost his attack dog themes.

Ron Paul was also a sidebar character.  He is at least consistent.  And in many cases he brought back the principle of why the federal government is way too large.

I have not seen overnight ratings on how many people saw the debate and the news coverage of this event was spotty at best.  But my suspicion is that Romney will begin to take control of the nomination next Tuesday in Arizona and Michigan and then will romp through Super-Tuesday the next week.   One other comment on last night, for the first time this season, I have a bit more confidence that whoever wins the nomination will be able to give the President a good run for his money.

The best line about the debate tonight came from Andrew Malcolm - he commented "Ash Wednesday and people are giving things up for Lent. Rick Santorum should give up chocolate, I think. And Newt Gingrich should give up. That’s it, just give up."

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