Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What to Expect from the GOP Debate Tonight in Arizona

The view from my seat at the SC GOP debate

We've had 3 weeks and 6 beautiful days between GOP debates, but that all changes tonight when John King and Wolf Blitzer take to the CNN stage again.
A lot has changed in the last four weeks. First and foremost, Rick Santorum grew a spine, and Newt Gingrich drifted off into irrelevancy. Mitt Romney has lost his favored status, and Ron Paul continues to be, well, Ron Paul.
Tonight the candidates won't be trying to appeal to just one state, but instead will be trying to appeal to both Arizona and Michigan- two very different states, with very different issues. On top of that, there won't be another debate before the real Super Tuesday next week. So chances are good we won't see pandering to any one state like we did with Gingrich and the moon colony in Florida.
Rick Santorum has the most to lose tonight. He has been running on a social conservative platform since day one. And now, he's finally turned the tide and made everyone else talk about it too. But considering the extremist views he has, the real question is how long can that last?
Santorum has not performed well in any of the debates so far. He hasn't performed badly, he just has failed to connect or make an impact. And because debating hasn't been his strong suit, expect both Romney and Gingrich to capitalize on that.
If it is Santorum that wins, it will be considered Romney that lost. Romney absolutely has to connect with the voters, and he needs to re-establish his Superman-bullet-deflecting-Teflon-armor persona where the attacks just bounce off of him. I predict we will not see Romney engage with Santorum or vice versa. Both will go after Obama instead. Gingrich, as always, will be the wild card. Will he attack Romney and Santorum, or go after Obama? If he goes after Obama, we may be in for one really dull debate where no one is willing to confront each other. But Romney and Santorum would both be wise to take on Gingrich if he's not too much of a loose cannon. Taking on each other is too risky and admits the other is the competition. Shutting Gingrich up just makes people like you more.
Gingrich has everything at stake. If there is anything we have learned in the last 4 weeks it is that he fails to be relevant or interesting if he's not fighting on stage. I expect he will come out swinging, and that we may see the return of Grandiose Newt tonight. Some would suggest that he would be up for an image change right now. Gingrich doesn't do that, he refuses to change. He will definitely be the unknown factor tonight.
Ron Paul- why does he even show up at these things?
Some interesting other notes-
Tonight the debate will be held at a desk and everyone will be sitting. This may put a small damper on Gingrich's literal posturing and strutting.
The debate is being held in Mesa, Arizona, a VERY Mormon friendly town, on a Catholic holy day. It will be interesting to see how religious attitudes effect the proceedings.

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