Photo: Courtesy of ABC News
With just two days to go before the New Hampshire primaries, the six remaining Republican presidential candidates met again for another marathon round of debates this weekend, going head-to-head twice over the span of just 12 hours.There were high hopes for Saturday night’s ABC News/Yahoo debate; the first candidate matchup since Iowa. But those who expected Mitt Romney’s opponents to finally start taking their shots at the now-official frontrunner were sorely disappointed Saturday night.
Instead, the not-Romney candidates devolved into lackluster bickering amongst themselves. Ron Paul got in sparring matches with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry proposed re-invading Iraq, and by the end of it, Jon Huntsman was speaking Chinese. Romney, meanwhile, rose above the fray, aiming his shots at President Obama and delivering some of his sharpest, wittiest responses to date.
But by Sunday morning, it was another story for Romney. Turns out, having two debates in a row is kind of like getting a second shot at a breakup — all the rest of the candidates got to lay out everything they should have said the night before.
Because you probably didn’t spend your weekend hanging on Mitt Romney’s every word, we’ve compiled the best moments from both debates.
ABC News is already catching flak for Saturday night's debate, which was the kind of production that lends credibility to the whole liberal media bias argument. Moderators Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos didn't ask a question about the economy until almost a full hour into the debate, instead focusing on social issues that are important to a small core of the GOP base.
Romney was surprisingly unafraid to call the moderators out on their 'gotcha' questions. When Stephanopoulos asked whether states have a right to ban contraception, Romney sharply pointed out that the question is ridiculous.
'George, I don't know whether a state has a right to ban contraception,' Romney replied. 'No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do and asking me whether they could do it or not is kind of a silly thing, I think.'
There's more, but you get the point. Stephanopoulos was blatantly trying to paint Romney into a corner where he would have to choose between getting into a fight with Rick Santorum or taking an extreme position that could hurt him with moderates. By catching the trick -- and calling him out for it -- Romney came across as smart and totally reasonable.
Watch the video below, courtesy of CBS News:
In an election cycle defined by whiplash, the one constant has always been Ron Paul, who tends to eschew elbow jabbing in favour of his familiar libertarian talking points.
But Paul's feisty debate performances this weekend suggest that may no longer be the case. The Texas Congressman came out swinging Saturday night, slamming Rick Santorum as a 'big government, big spending individual.'
Later, Paul totally rattled Newt Gingrich's cage by attacking him on Vietnam War deferments. Here's the exchange:
Paul: I have a pet peeve that annoys me to a great deal, because when I see these young men coming back, my heart weeps for them.
Gingrich: Well, Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he's referring to.
I think I have a pretty good idea of what it's like as a family to worry about your father getting killed. And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with.
Paul: I need one quick follow-up. When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids, and I went.
It was quite a moment for Paul. But don't worry -- he was back to his old self on Sunday with an impressive rant on the definition of liberty.
After a relatively mild performance Saturday night, Gingrich came out swinging the next morning, finally delivering with the Romney attacks he's been promising us since Iowa.
The hit came early on in the debate, as Romney ran out the clock swearing that he wasn't another 'career politician.'
Gingrich chimed in, asking Romney if he could 'drop some of the pious baloney' about not having political ambitions.
'You have been running consistently for years and years and years,' Gingrich went on. 'So this idea that suddenly citizenship showed up in your mind -- just level with the American people.
Watch the whole moment below.
This weekend was now-or-never time for Huntsman, the former Utah Governor who has spent months campaigning to compete in the Granite State. And it looked more like never after Huntsman failed to respond when Romney attacked him for serving as Obama's Ambassador to China.
But Huntsman got a second chance on Sunday, and this time he stepped up to the plate. In what was one of the best moments of the debate, Huntsman defended his service and accused Romney of trying to score cheap political points.
Here's the exchange:
Huntsman:...I was criticised last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first.
And I just wanna remind the people here in New Hampshire and throughout the United States that I think-- he criticised me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China. Yes, under a Democrat. Like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They're not asking who-- what political affiliation the president is. I wanna be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country. I will always put my country first. And I think that's important to them.
Romney: I -- I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles and doing everything in our power to promote an agenda that does not include President Obama's agenda…
Huntsman: This nation is divided, David, because of attitudes like that.
In two debate performances this weekend, Santorum made it clear that he either can't or won't stray far from the staunch religious conservatism that helped him to tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa last week.
But that message may not be as palatable to New Hampshire's more socially moderate Republican primary voters. During a swing through the state this week, the former Pennsylvania Senator was repeatedly pressed to elaborate on his gay rights positions, particularly after he suggested Friday that kids would be better off with a father in prison than with a gay dad.
The questions kept coming Sunday morning, when the NBC debate moderator asked Santorum what he would do if he had a son who said he was gay.
'I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it,' Santorum responded. 'And I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible.'
In the only real 'gaffe' of the weekend, Romney made yet another embarrassing remark about money that's going to come back to bite him, this time suggesting that only rich people should get involved in public service and cheering himself for having forced Democratic rival Ted Kennedy to take a mortgage on his house during their 1994 Senate race.
Explaining that he had always planned to be a businessman, not a politician, Romney recounted advice he said his father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, once gave him: 'Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage. If you find yourself in a position when you can serve, why you ought to have a responsibility to do so if you think you can make a difference.'
Talking about his race with Kennedy a few minutes later, Romney added: 'I was happy he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me.'
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