On the evening of January 19, the remaining Republican presidential candidates publicly broke Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment: Thou shall not speak badly about another Republican. On their last debate before the primary in South Carolina, the gloves were off. Front runner Mitt Romney, joined by Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul attacked each other on everything from taxes to marriages.
The candidates quickly seized upon a new hot topic floating around the media. The issue in question revolves around Newt Gingrich’s second marriage. The former Speaker of the House’s second wife claims that Gingrich did not want to uphold fidelity in their relationship. Such an accusation could have disastrous consequences in a state like South Carolina, which boasts a strong Evangelical population. But instead of dissembling, Gingrich turned the attack against him into an attack on the “liberal” mainstream media. If the audience’s reaction was any indication, Gingrich may have turned a negative into a positive.
However, Gingrich’s same eloquence was turned into a negative by Rick Santorum. Santorum impressed upon the audience that Speaker Gingrich is simply too much of a wildcard to run against President Obama. His verbal “grandiosity” may sound nice during debates, but no one wants to worry about what the President of the United States is going to say next. Santorum was probably hinting at Gingrich’s zany, short-lived campaign for a lunar colony during the ’90s.
Taxes presented another major stumbling block for some candidates during the debate. Political pundits have currently been having a field day with information about Mitt Romney’s taxes. This particular melodrama revolves around the fact that Romney, who sits upon over a $100 million in assets, pays about as much in taxes as a middle class American. Ordinarily, this might not be such an issue for a Republican candidate, but Romney has so far stubbornly refused to disclose his taxes.
Is he hiding something? If Gingrich is to be believed, that could certainly be the case. Furthermore, his arrogant, one-word answer as to when he would release his taxes-“maybe”-elicited boos from the audience.
A topic endlessly rehashed in America’s culture wars, abortion, actually brought about interesting statements on health care and the nature of a true conservative. Gingrich and the other candidates pounced upon Romney’s notorious ambivalence about abortion. Once a pro-choice politician, Romney now touts himself as an ardent pro-lifer. Yet, as his fellow debaters brought up, he did not explicitly ban funding for abortions under his controversial Massachusetts health care mandate. This inevitably led to the bashing of government mandated health care and the virtues of small government.
At the end of the night, each candidate made certain to stress his most important attribute: the ability to beat President Obama. Whether voters ultimately choose moderate Mitt Romney, “conviction Conservative” Rick Santorum, or wild card Newt Gingrich, this race will be one to remember.