If this debate had happened in South Carolina, i.e., if that one had been this dry and toothless, we’d be looking at a different campaign.
The mainstream media rescued Newt last week with ABC’s ex-wife interview and CNN’s high hanging debate softball, which allowed Newt to go off on John King like Pierre Beauregard going off on Fort Sumter, much to the crowd’s delight, and thus solidifying his role as a charismatic rebel commander.
Nothing like that happened tonight. Newt bordered on charming. Mitt did his best to get him out of kilter with forceful attacks on Newt’s $1.6 Million Freddie Mac not-lobbying historical consulting gig. Newt released the contract today, which was surprising in what it didn’t say, that is, much of anything. Apparently, Newt was paid for “providing consulting and related services” to the tune of $25,000 a month.
Romney certainly got some scratches in on this, but enough to draw blood? Newt was pretty effective at muddying the water defensively and, oddly, counter-punching with Bain (but hey, why not?). And there was a notable lack of whooping and yelling the crowd, compared to South Carolina, even on red meat moments.
At one point, Mitt and Newt pretty much abandoned the moderator and immoderately went at each other’s throats. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul played spectators for much of the debate, though both of these probably outperformed the stars with the limited chances they got.
The problem now, I think, is that most people are already tired of this campaign. More negative campaigning is going to offer diminishing returns to either side, and with the saturation of Super Pacs flooding the airwaves, there is the distinct possibility that GOP voters, let alone independents, will reach a pox on both your houses position sooner than later.
Sidenote: For what it’s worth, we found out tonight that AFSCME, the premier state and federal employee union definitely would prefer to face Newt in the general, buying $800,000 to reinforce Newt’s Bain attacks in Florida before the primary. At some point even the firmest defender of the first amendment must begin to wonder if this regime of wild west political speech is really serving any purpose. And I guess we will see if the Florida GOP base is as outraged about their enemies trying to influence their election as the South Carolinians were about ABC and CNN.