In the debate hosted by ABC and Yahoo! News, Mitt Romney came out aggressively against Gingrich, charging that his long career in politics leaves him unprepared to lead an economic recovery.
“Speaker Gingrich and I have a lot of places where we disagree,” Romney said. “We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon.”
During the first exchange between Romney and Gingrich, Romney hesitated for a moment when prompted by Stephanopoulos to name areas of disagreement between himself and the former speaker. He then ran through a list of a few items before reaching his favored talking point. More than issues, he said, it’s their resumes that set them apart.
“I understand how the economy works,” Romney said, positioning himself as the businessman with private sector experience and Gingrich as the lifelong “career politician.”
Gingrich shot back, “Let’s be candid. The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is you lost to [Sen.] Teddy Kennedy in 1994.”
“It’s a bit much,” Gingrich added. “You’d have been a 17-year politician by now if you’d won. That’s all I’m saying on that.”
U.S. Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul criticized Gingrich as a hypocrite who profited from his contacts and wound up taking taxpayer money when Freddie Mac was bailed out by the federal government.
“When you’re taking money to influence the outcome of legislation, that’s the epitome of establishment,” Bachmann said.
Gingrich said he did not lobby for the housing giant but offered “strategic advice.”
His biggest test came when ABC News moderators Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos raised the issue of Gingrich’s past marital infidelities. Gingrich, who is married to his third wife, acknowledged the seriousness of his past missteps and argued gently that he is now a different person.
“I think people have to look at a person to who they are going to loan the presidency, and they have a right to ask every single question,” he said. “I’m also a 68-year-old grandfather, and I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I am a person they can trust.”
Perry, who has aired two television ads aimed at winning over evangelical voters, said that was a legitimate question for voters. “I think that issue of fidelity is important,” he said. “If you’re cheating on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partner.”
Gingrich agreed it was a legitimate issue and said he had gone to God for forgiveness. “People have to measure who I am and whether I’m a person they can trust,” he said.
Romney raised Gingrich’s remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, describing as “incendiary” Gingrich’s claim that Palestinians were an “invented people”. Gingrich said it was historically true and that they had been part of the Ottoman empire. He said he would tell the truth and accused Romney of being timid.
Gingrich said the Palestinians were still firing rockets at Israel – which is true – and said they included wild antisemitic smears in their schoolbooks paid for by America – a charge that was once true but which Palestinians say is no longer the case.
“If I’m president of the United States, I will exercise sobriety, care, stability, and make sure that in a setting like this, anything I say that can affect a place with rockets going in, with people dying, I don’t do anything that will harm that process,” Romney said in reference to Israel.
“And therefore before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu and say, ‘Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do? Let’s work together because we’re partners.'”
“I’m not a bomb-thrower, rhetorically or literally,” Romney said.
“I think sometimes that it’s helpful to have a president of the United States who has the courage to tell the truth,” Gingrich said, arguing that then-President Ronald Reagan went around his national security advisers to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and “overruled” the State Department to utter his famous “Tear down this wall” line.
“Reagan believed the power of truth restated to the world and reframed the world,” Gingrich said. “I’m a Reaganite. I’m proud to be a Reaganite. I will tell the truth, even if it’s at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid.”
Mitt Romney came out on the short end of most of his exchanges with the former speaker of the House. And to make things worse, he committed a major gaffe that hurt his own prospects.
Romney, who is worth between $190m and $250m (between £121m and £160m), bet Perry $10,000 he was wrong, a challenge Perry turned down.
Spin doctors for Romney’s rivals were quick to point out that the $10,000 line would harm him with voters, consolidating his reputation as being very rich. Few in Iowa, even if they were sure of a point, would dream of betting such an amount, one of Perry’s spin doctors said.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign bought up a website, www.10kbet.com. A campaign official confirmed the purchase to The Huffington Post.
And the Democratic National Committee shot out a press release entitled, “Here’s What the Average American Family Can Buy with $10,000.” It said the sum equals four months of pay for many American families, a year of college tuition at a state school, three times what the average family spends on groceries annually, and a year’s worth of mortgage payments for “the typical American home.”
The latest poll in Iowa has Gingrich on 33%, Romney 20%, Ron Paul 17%, Perry 9%, Michele Bachman 7%, Rick Santorum 5% and Jon Huntsman 1%. Huntsman was the only one not present, speaking instead at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, the next contest after Iowa.
The Republicans will debate again on Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa, in the final debate before the January 3 caucuses open the Republican nominating race. [via Huffington Post, Reuters, Guardian and Politico]