In a rambling speech as unclear as the rest of his campaign, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman began his Monday morning press conference attacking the rest of the field. He admonished his colleagues for running nasty campaigns (true but people in glass houses…). When he was done playing campaign police Huntsman announced his withdrawal from the primary race. He then endorsed one of the people he had just finished trashing, Mitt Romney.
According to the mainstream media the Huntsman endorsement helped the inevitable Romney nomination became even more inevitable. After all, they claimed, Romney had the momentum of the first two contests and he lead in the next two contests, South Carolina and Florida. If you believed the reports, it was all over except for the vote count.
The media didn’t consider the voting in South Carolina and Florida hadn’t started as of yet. In this crazy political season anything can (and probably will) happen.
They also ignored the fact that Huntsman will add very little (if anything) to Romney’s support. Even in New Hampshire where Huntsman received almost 17% of the vote, most of his support came from independent voters who considered themselves liberal or Democrats. In other words, yes the endorsement will help but not until the general election (if Romney gets that far).
A few hours after the Huntsman announcement, the remaining candidates gathered in Myrtle Beach for what turned out to be one of the hardest fought debates this season.
When all was said and done, Mitt Romney left with a big chink in his inevitability armor and Newt Gingrich may have started a come-back.
Romney’s effort wasn’t his best, but it wasn’t disastrously bad either. It was more that Gingrich, Perry and Santorum were excellent, and Newt Gingrich’s performance was head and shoulders above the rest.
As for Ron Paul, he provided comic relief as most of his answers left observers scratching their heads wondering what the heck he was trying to say.
Gingrich started out horrible. When asked about his attack on Romney and Bain Capital Gingrich did a tap dance around the issue worthy of Gene Kelly. But as the debate moved to other topics, the former speaker dropped the attacks and returned to the blunt straight talk which had given him success prior to Iowa.
The turning point for Gingrich was his exchange with Fox News’ Juan Williams. Williams seemed to come to his panel duties with the express purpose of trying to prove that the GOP candidate’s positions were racist.
Williams asked Gingrich about his identification of President Obama as the “Food Stamp President.” The Fox News liberal suggested Gingrich was being racist or at the very least insensitive.
That’s when Newt let him have it:
“ Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any President in American history. I know among the politically correct you are not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable. Second, you are the one who earlier raised the key point. There’s an area on I-73 that was called by Barack Obama as an area of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved? No. They haven’t built a road, they haven’t helped the people, and they haven’t done anything.
One last thing. So here’s my point. I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn to get a better job and learn some day to own the job.”
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A contact of mine told me after the debate that Gingrich’s answer drew a standing ovation from supporters of all candidates in the crowd.
Gingrich addressed the frustration of many Americans who believe that political correctness was stifling the necessary debate about issues and the search for real solutions in the country. He also was pointing out the double standard of the media, as a Democrat saying the same thing as Gingrich would not be attacked as racist.
Romney some good moments one was his exchange with Ron Paul on foreign policy. Paul continued with his isolationist stance position that just about everything the US has ever done overseas has been bad (he sounds like the guy he is trying to replace as president).
“If another country does to us what we do others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in — in foreign policy,” he said. “Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want to have them do to us. So we — we endlessly bomb these countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?”
Romney shot back,
“Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are,” he said. “These people declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them. And the right thing for Usama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received. That’s the right thing for people who kill American citizens.”
Santorum and Perry also had some good moments, but in the end what will be remembered from the debate will be the Gingrich/Juan Williams exchange. His answer was so powerful it will be played over during the next week, which is bound to help Gingrich regain some of the momentum he lost in Iowa.
With the South Carolina vote on Saturday followed by the Florida vote the week after, as of today candidacy does not look so inevitable.
The prediction here is that Romney will still win South Carolina but Gingrich will have turned things around and closed the gap.
After New Hampshire it looked as if the proverbial fat lady was warming up, last night however, Newt Gingrich made her sit down and take a nap. There is a long way to go before anyone becomes the presumptive nominee.