Impressions from tonight's debate:
Newt Gingrich dealt with his ex-wife's claim that he asked for an "open marriage" by sharply attacking CNN's John King for asking about it. "The story is false," he said, denouncing it as "trash" and saying, "I'm tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans." It was the most animated Mr. Gingrich got all night. The problem for Mr. Gingrich is that he's not running for president against CNN's John King, he's running against President Obama and the other three Republicans on the stage, none of whom was offering him a lot of support on the issue. Ron Paul made reference to his "wife of 54 years," while Mitt Romney made reference to his "wife of 42 years" and Rick Santorum said, "These are issues of character for each of us to consider."
Mitt Romney manages to denounce ObamaCare as a "Medicare-cutting monster" while also styling himself as the defender of "free enterprise" against President Obama's vision of a "European-style social welfare state." I can't quite tell what's going on there. Either Mr. Romney isn't smart enough to realize that these two lines of attack are inconsistent, or he does realize they are inconsistent and is cynical enough to think that voters aren't smart enough to realize they are inconsistent. Either way, eventually it's going to catch up with him in an unpleasant way.
Mr. Romney has moved from saying in Monday night's debate that maybe he'll put out one tax return in April to, tonight, saying that he'll definitely put out multiple years worth of tax returns in April. If he doesn't win South Carolina and the pressure builds he may be forced to put out some past-year returns before the next primaries.
There was an astonishing scarcity of discussion of foreign policy, and this time none of the candidates, not even Rick Santorum, challenged Ron Paul when Dr. Paul talked about bringing American troops home from overseas.
Mr. Santorum sharpened his attacks on the other candidates, describing RomneyCare as an "abject failure" and "an abject disaster" and going after Mr. Gingrich on a series of fronts: favoring an individual mandate for health insurance as recently as 2008 and so "playing footsie with the left"; "grandiosity," "an idea a minute, no discipline," failing to expose the House bank scandal when he knew about it, and trying to keep social issues out of the 2010 Republican pledge to America.