The knives were out against Mitt Romney from the opening moments of this morning’s Republican presidential debate and for the first time, his rivals actually drew blood, writes Taegan Goddard. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum took on Romney’s claims that he wasn’t a “career politician” even though he’s been running for office since 1994.
Romney’s weakest moment was suggesting that only rich people should run for office by citing his father’s advice to him: “Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage.” He then bragged about his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Ted Kennedy: “I was happy he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me.”
In the end, however, the debate was probably more about the race to finish second to Romney in New Hampshire. Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Jon Hunstman, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry all had decent performances but none had a breakout moment that should substantially change the results of Tuesday’s primary.
More analysis and reaction:
John Avlon: Jon Huntsman had his best debate right on time–two days before New Hampshire votes.
Alexander Burns: The tone was markedly different from Saturday night’s debate, as the candidates seemed to realize that absent a direct confrontation with Romney — who’s far ahead in polls for Tuesday’s primary — he would be well on his way to claiming the Republican presidential nomination.
Matthew Dowd says as soon as Romney clinches the nomination, “He’s going to turn and become the Massachusetts moderate again.”
National Review: Both Gingrich and Romney look petty and a bit childish in this exchange about their attack ads, Super PACS, heated rhetoric, etc. Both also look like everything people don’t like about politicians. It is a low point for both of them, not just for this debate, but for any of these debates that have so dominated this campaign.
Ken Tucker: Between Perry’s meaningless “socialist” tag to Romney’s repeated use of the phrase “career politician” to characterize Obama, the divisions between the Republican candidates were never so great that they lost sight of their prime goal: To keep invoking the insult of their choice for the President, fervently hoping that by sheer repetition on TV, the insult would transform into fact for many viewers. It’s an old tactic, but sometimes it works.