The 18th Republican Debate: What To Watch For If You Can Bear It

rick santorum mitt romney debate

[credit provider=”Courtesy of Fox”]

Just like last week we are down to four candidates. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul.And tonight you can see them reprise the longest running series of debates ever on NBC between 9-11pm.

The debate will be moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams and include National Journal’s Beth Reinhard and the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith.

So, what should you be watching for?

Newt versus the media. No one has benefitted more from the media attention paid to his candidacy than Newt Gingrich. The very number of debates kept his failing campaign alive long after it would have died in previous years. And his snarling responses to questions he deems hostile seems to have been the biggest reason he is challenging Mitt Romney. The media is now even abetting him by declaring him “the conservative alternative” to Mitt Romney, even if his record of positions is eerily similar to Romneys. Will Romney try to pick a fight with Brian Williams? And will Williams and co. play into it? 

Passionate Romney Mitt Romney turned in two desultory performances in the South Carolina debates last week. He served untoasted white bread, while Newt offered the audience Flamin’ Fun Cheez-tastic Appeteasers. In the past two days Romney has taken to personally issuing attacks against Gingrich’s lobbying, and his ethics-violations. Romney is trying to stage-mange himself into looking spontaneous. 

Immigration questions.  This could be tricky. Mitt Romney basically destroyed Rick Perry’s candidacy by getting to Perry’s right on immigration. Romney has the more conservative-restrictionist position on immigration compared to Gingrich. But Florida’s GOP is one of the most immigrant-friendly in the country, owing to its large Cuban-American cohort. Romney needs to attack Gingrich’s conservative credentials, but Florida is an inopportune time to do that on this important issue. 

Will Ron Paul Go After Anyone? Paul’s attacks on Gingrich in Iowa were devastating, and he has occasionally contributed to undermining the credentials of other candidates. But lately he has been either on teh defensive against the moderator’s questions, or satisfying himself with explaining his political philosophy. 

The Pro-Life Moment. Today is the anniversary of the Roe w. Wade decision, in which the Supreme Court suddenly discovered that the late 18th century American men who drafted our Founding Documents had incidentally included the unfettered right to surgical abortion in the Constitution. Pro-lifers have marked this date with a March on the Washington Mall- through whatever miserable January weather D.C. offers. Expect every candidate to talk about the decision, the importance of appointing strict-constructionist judges. But perhaps we should also expect Rick Santorum to offer testimony about his daughter Bella. 

Mormon moment. Newt Gingrich has been consorting with a Florida pastor who views Mormonism as a cult. Let’s see how the candidates handle that moment. 

Overall, we found last week’s debate between just four contenders much more lively and interesting. Perhaps, late in this long series of debates, we are finally getting something interesting.