Equipped with my special Political Blogger Kit (a double martini straight up with two olives, and a Mead 3″ by 5″ memo book and a ballpoint pen) I planted myself securely on the couch between our dogs Tuesday night, mere minutes before the start of what CNN grandly billed as its Southern Republican Debate. When I turned on the TV, CNN’s go-to alternative to dead air, Wolf Blitzer, was proclaiming giddily that the candidates would “come out swinging,” which struck me as pretty unlikely on the very day that Newt Gingrich’s second wife came forward with the story about her ex proposing an open marriage as an alternative to divorce.
As is their wont, CNN began with a montage conferring a ridiculous honorific on each of the participants: Mitt (“The Frontrunner!”) Romney, Newt (“On the Rise!”) Gingrich, Rick (“Increasing Momentum!”) Santorum and Ron (“The Insurgent!”) Paul. With that nonsense out of the way, a brief rundown of the debate rules and a handsome rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by Citadel cadets followed, and then each of the candidates got a chance to say “hey” to the audience and those of us watching at home.
Finally, at 8:08 pm, debate moderator John King posed the first question of the evening, about – surprise! – whether Newt had pushed wife #2 for an open marriage. I suwannee, few folks can bring the righteous indignation like Speaker Gingrich. The steam coming out of his ears could have cooked collard greens. Umbrage doesn’t get any more umber. And strangely enough, I agreed with him. Yes, it was in the news; no, it was inappropriate as a debate question.
After Gingrich got most of the high dudgeon out of his system (I always feel bad for the janitorial staff who have to mop up the high dudgeon after a Republican debate), Ron Paul used the first available opportunity to note that he and his wife have been together for 54 years. Classy, Dr. Paul.
Mitt Romney jumped at a chance to deride president Obama as a “crony capitalist” and used Solyndra and the Keystone XL pipeline as examples; a predictable Romney gumbo of lies and nonsense, in other words, ending with the applause line: “… it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong.” The audience obliged. After this nincompoopery, he segued into some states’ rights boilerplate and then tried to equate “ObamaCare” to Amtrak and the USPS.
At 8:43, Dr. Paul took us back to a simpler time:
“I had the privilege of practicing medicine in the early ’60s, before we had any government.”
At 8:51, Rick Santorum told us he’s not flamboyant. Thanks, Rick. We hadn’t noticed. But he is nasty, as he proved when he started kicking Gingrich about the 1994 election. The two clashed with their differing versions of an era nobody cares about any more, and then a smiling Romney used the opportunity to portray himself as an outsider (a position Mitt often uses as cover for the fact that no one much likes him). For good measure, he mocked Gingrich’s attempts to portray himself as an heir to Ronald Reagan by pointing out that the Gipper’s diary mentions Newt only once, and then only as someone who had an idea Reagan didn’t like, adding:
“I mean, he mentions George Bush a hundred times. He even mentions my dad once.”
But scant minutes later, a retired broker in the audience asked the candidates as a group when they would release their tax returns. Gingrich jumped:
“An hour ago.”
Paul’s answer was slower and less nimble, but earned him some laughs and applause:
“Well — well, I hadn’t thought it — thought it through. I don’t have an intention of doing it, but for a different reason. I’d probably be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their incomes. I don’t want the embarrassment because I don’t have a greater income.”
Romney’s response was quintessentially Romneyesque. If you’re still wondering why even Republicans dislike him even as he seems poised to become their nominee, well, here you go:
“… I know that if I’m the nominee the president’s going to want to insist that I show what my income was this last year and so forth. When they’re completed this year in April I’ll release my returns in April, and probably for other years as well.
And I know that’s what’s going to come. Every time the Democrats are out there trying their very best to — to try and attack people because they’ve been successful, and I — and I have been successful. But let me tell you, the — the — the challenge in America is not people who have been successful. The challenge in America — and President Obama doesn’t want to talk about this — is you got a president who’s played 90 rounds of golf while there are 25 million Americans out of work. And — and — (cheers, applause) — and you’ve got — and — and while the price of gasoline has doubled, he said no to the Keystone pipeline. And while we’ve got 15 trillion (dollars) of debt, he said, look, I’m going to put another trillion of debt for ‘Obamacare.’ That’s the problem in America, not the attacks they make on people who have been successful…”
“But some of the questions about when you’ll release your taxes have not come — the president has raised them — his campaign has raised them, you’re right on that. But so have some of your rivals up here. Speaker Gingrich has said you owe them to the people of South Carolina before they vote. Governor Perry made that point as well before he left the race. Why not should the people of South Carolina before this election see last year’s return?”
As the exchange continued, Romney began to sound a little, for want of a better word, Trumpish:
“Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama. And every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks. As — as has been done in the past, if I’m the nominee, I’ll put these out at one time so we have one discussion of all of this. I obviously pay all full taxes. I’m honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. My taxes are carefully managed. And I pay a lot of taxes. I’ve been very successful. And I — when I have our — our taxes ready for this year, I’ll release them.”
Romney was reminded that his father had released 12 years of his own tax returns in a 1967 campaign. King described the release as “a groundbreaking standard in American politics” and asked Mitt:
“When you release yours, will you follow your father’s example?”
There were audible boos and catcalls (and not just in our living room) when Romney responded:
“Maybe. I — you know, I don’t know how many years I’ll release. I’ll take a look at what the — the — what our documents are. And I’ll release multiple years; I don’t know how many years. And — but I’ll be happy to do that.”
He then tried to hijack the discussion again, circling back around to how he’s not your ordinary fat cat; he’s a self-made fat cat:
“I didn’t inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way.”
The cheering I could hear from the crowd had to be coming from Romney staffers; it’s hard to believe that anyone else in attendance believed this drivel. Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Incredible Shrinking Field edition)