If I were a conservative Republican in South Carolina and Thursday night’s debate was the first I’d watched during this primary season, the choice would be easy. Rick Santorum. I know: It surprised me, too.
While he might have fewer overall followers than the other three candidates, Santorum nonetheless (or because of this) debated flawlessly. It was the single most impressive debate performance in this long series from any of the candidates.
Newt Gingrich also had his moments, pulling out whatever “go-to” trick in his arsenal the moment required. But on the issues, and for conservative Republican South Carolina voters, Santorum was the one running on all cylinders.
So why, despite trailing in the polls, did Rick Santorum win?
First, nobody was attacking him. He had a free roll. So in this case, it paid for Santorum to be last in the polls. He attacked Mitt Romney and Gingrich and was never put on his heels by his opponents. With no predators in sight, Santorum dominated the environment like an Asian carp.
Second, his criticisms were focused and covered important conservative issues. He hammered away on health care at both Romney. (At one point Romney actually made the error of calling his own plan “Romneycare.” Next thing you know he will accidentally call it “Obamneycare.”) And then Santorum laid into Gingrich on individual mandates, which the former House speaker supported for 10 years.
More than once, Santorum drove home the notion that Gingrich is a loose cannon and Republicans can’t afford that in a nominee. He flatly stated that Gingrich has “no discipline.” Gingrich had suggested earlier that Santorum should drop out of the race. “These are not cogent thoughts,” Santorum responded in the debate, reminding the audience that he is “2 and 0” against Gingrich in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and with much less money.
Finally, Santorum did a good job presenting his own ideas — zero taxes for manufacturing corporations, his anti-abortion stance — and his closing remarks were right on the mark. In them, he talked about his electability over President Barack Obama. He went point by point describing his differences with Obama on health care and bailouts — reminding the audience not so subtly that Romney and Gingrich supported the bailouts. Santorum concluded by saying he was the only Republican on stage ever to beat an incumbent Democrat.
So will it translate to votes for Rick Santorum?
- CNN GOP South Carolina debate review (worldviewtonight.wordpress.com)
- An Open Letter to Rick Santorum supporters – Tea Party Nation (gds44.wordpress.com)
- Perry Out Endorses Gingrich, Santorum Iowa Upset (thepracticalvegetarian.wordpress.com)