Endgame Analysis: I don’t think Romney was mortally wounded, but he did stammer through some key issues such as the release of his tax returns. Clearly Newt had almost all of and the biggest moments. Probably Rick Perry’s best debate, Santorum was uneven. Probably Ron Paul’s worst debate.
If Newt’s goal was to knock Romney down, it probably didn’t work. If Newt’s goal was to establish himself as the leader of the Newt-Santorum-Perry grouping, it probably worked. To the extent a debate can make a difference, this should help separate Newt from Santorum, the question is if it was enough.
At the third break: Clearly Newt’s night so far. I’ll post some tweets later from more neutral observers on Twitter. Rick Perry was strong. Santorum a non-entity until the end when he attacked Newt — Santorum hasn’t figured out that he needs to keep Romney down.
At the second break: Newt had all the applause lines (unemployment with job training, children working in schools). Juan Williams tried to claim Newt was belittling minorites, crowd booed loudly, and Newt got to take command. Romney was pressed on tax returns, gave a rambling answer which suggested that he “probably” would do so in Apri (which conveniently is after Super Tuesday when the nomination likely will be all but done).
At the first break: A fairly strange segment, disjointed, started out with Bret Baier going after Newt on Bain attacks then devolved into such things as felon voting rights. The whole segment was just strange.
Bret Baier went after Newt very hard on the Bain attacks, quoting people who criticized Newt. Didn’t challenge Romney at all. Someone from WSJ asked Romney a question on Ampad, but no follow up. Basically, Romney floated through it, Fox went after Newt.
Juan Williams also framed a question to Santorum in a way favorable to Romney, making it sound like Santorum’s response to Romney’s attacks was the problem.
I’ll give commentary at the breaks.
Here’s what I expect. Santorum is angry at Romney’s attack ads (sound familiar?), and Santorum does angry even better than Newt. Newt will focus on Romney. Perry will try to contrast himself with Newt and Santorum, which would be unfortunate, because it helps Romney. Ron Paul will go after everyone, but mostly present himself as the only real alternative to Romney.
Get this — Santorum up by 80 votes in Iowa.