We tuned into last night’s Republican Presidential debate expecting to see a continuation of the raucous exchange that we saw last week in Charleston. Instead we got a snooze fest more reminiscent of a poetry reading than a contest for the most powerful office in the world. Moderator Brian Williams, request that those in attendance hold down their applause only added to the somberness in the room.
Mitt Romney, having witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of the Gingrich attacks in South Carolina; came out swinging. Hoping to draw the bombastic Gingrich into a mistake; Romney pounded on the circumstances surrounding Newt’s time as Speaker and his financial relationship with Freddie Mac. But Newt would have none of it. Perhaps understanding Romney’s ploy, or intentionally wanting to appear “Presidential”; Newt deflected Romney’s barbs with little more than a tepid response. It could also be that Newt was keeping his powder dry in anticipation of the Tuesday release of Romney’s tax returns and the President’s State of the Union address. Whatever the reason, Gingrich held back; and Romney, realizing that Gingrich would not take the bait, backed off as well…hence the poetry reading analogy.
There was one moment that did get our attention. It came when Rick Santorum gave a lengthy explanation of why we should use military force to take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities. We found the senator’s hawkish obsession with initiating a war against Iran both reckless and frightening.
In the end this campaign is still all about stopping Mitt Romney. And if Romney wants to hold off that charge he must find a way to make his case to Republican voters. He must still convince them that he is the conservative who can defeat Barak Obama. Last night he chose an attack strategy to make his point. It didn’t work. Post debate polls show Romney and Gingrich in a statistical tie with Newt still rising as support for Romney continues to decline.
The lead stories today will be the Romney tax returns and the President’s State of the Union address. The Romney campaign announced they would release the candidate’s returns Tuesday, calculating that the media reaction would get lost in all the coverage of the President’s address. They are wrong. Romney’s returns show that the former Massachusetts governor made $41 million over the past two years while campaigning for President. That comes to an average of $56,986 per day. He paid just under 15% in taxes. Thanks to the geniuses in the Romney campaign; this is the last picture Americans will have in their minds when the President delivers his remarks on income inequality in this country.
At the end of the debate it was pretty much same song different day. Romney is rich; Gingrich is an influence peddler and they both use Super Pacs to deliver their message.
And Romney has made himself the poster boy for income inequality in America.