Photo: Courtesy of CNN
The final four Republican presidential candidates went out with a bang Thursday in the last presidential debate before Florida voters head to the polls in what could be the decisive primary of the 2012 race.Overall, it was a great night for Mitt Romney, who managed to fend off attacks from rival Newt Gingrich, and even turn the tables on the former House Speaker over his controversial attack ads and his ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. It was a much-needed win for the former Massachusetts Governor, who has previously struggled to defend his business and conservative records.
But Romney wasn’t the only candidate who brought his A-game last night. Former Senator Rick Santorum also came out swinging, and managed to land a major hit against Romney over his support for Massachusetts’ healthcare reform law. Even Ron Paul looked like he was having fun.
In the end, the event will probably be remembered as the presidential debate that focused on lunar colonization while the global economy was crumbling. But for those of us watching, it was just another raucous night on the campaign trail, filled with fiesty exchanges and snappy one-liners.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights.
In one of the testiest sparring matches of the night, Romney laid into Gingrich for accusing him of being 'anti-immigrant,' calling the attacks 'inexcusable' and 'repulsive.'
'Mr. Speaker, I am not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales,' Romney said, adding that the accusation is 'simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterised American politics for too long.'
But Romney didn't stop there. When Gingrich asked him to explain why his immigration policy wouldn't result in mass deportation of the elderly, Romney laid bare the fundamental problem with Newt's immigration arguments.
'Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers,' Romney said. 'Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have.'
Watch the exchange below.
After a week of mudslinging over their respective political liabilities, Romney and Gingrich finally confronted each other face-to-face about their records in the private sector.
The tete-a-tete quickly devolved into a shouting match over who has deeper ties to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- and neither candidate came out on top.
Romney once again cast himself as the out-of-touch rich guy by blaming his investments on his blind trust -- 'First of all, my investments are not made by me' -- which isn't exactly a defence that resonates with middle-class voters.
Gingrich, meanwhile, looked like a big whiner ('To compare my investments with his is like comparing a tiny mouse with a giant elephant') and nobody is buying his 'I'm a historian not a lobbyist' line anyway.
If you have been paying attention to this year's debates, you may have noticed that Newt Gingrich has a penchant for tearing into the debate moderators. In fact, his takedown of CNN's John King last week may have ultimately played a big role in his surprising win in South Carolina.
But the former House Speaker finally got his comeuppance last night, at the hands of CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
When Blitzer asked Gingrich whether he was satisfied with Romney's financial discloses, Gingrich dismissed it as a 'nonsense question' and proceeded to try to shanghai the debate by declaring a 'truce' between the four candidates.
Blitzer was having none of it, pointing out that Gingrich has been attacking Romney all week for his offshore bank accounts.
'If you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that,' Blitzer said.
In the end, Gingrich surrendered and said he thought it would be 'unusual' for a U.S. President to have Swiss bank accounts.
Watch the video below.
In the surest sign of debate fatigue yet, Wolf Blitzer devoted another segment of the show to who among the candidates's wives would make the best First Lady.
It was an inherently awkward question, as no one wanted to debate the relative merits of his opponents's spouses. Instead, the four candidates waxed sentimental about their own wives -- Romney praised his wife as a 'fighter' for her battling multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, Rick Santorum talked about his wife Karen's role in raising their seven children, and Ron Paul proudly told the audience about his wife's cookbook.
But Gingrich's answer -- that 'all three of the wives would make excellent First Ladies' -- was by far the funniest, and most puzzling. It's not clear who he's leaving off his list.
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