Thoughts On The South Carolina Debate

Truthfully, I didn't watch the entire debate. At this point -- 16 debates so far in the GOP primary season --who does? [TPM has my back -- they sum-up the debate in 100 seconds]

I caught a few minutes of hot contention between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. It was the exchange over Romney's SuperPAC ads that Santorum decries are false. From the transcript:
JUAN WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, today you said Governor Romney is guilty of distorting your record as well as, quote, "lies and hypocrisy." You said this behavior is classic Romney, and no one is holding him accountable.

So the same question that Kelly asked, this time to you, should these barbed personal attacks against fellow Republicans be abandoned by the candidates?

RICK SANTORUM: I -- look, I have run a very strong and positive campaign. My ads have been positive. The only ad that I've ever put up that has contrasted myself with the other candidates, and does so in a way talking about issues.

Governor Romney's super PAC has put an ad out there suggesting that I voted to allow felons to be able to vote from prison, because they said I'm allowing felons to vote, and they put a prisoner -- a person in a prison jumpsuit.

I would ask Governor Romney, do you believe people who have -- who were felons, who served their time, who have extended -- exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney?

MITT ROMNEY: First of all, as you know, the PACs that run ads on various candidates, as we unfortunately know in this -

SANTORUM: I'm looking for a question -- an answer to the question first.


ROMNEY: We have plenty of time. I'll get there. I'll do it in the order I want to do. I believe that, as you realize that the super PACs run ads. And if they ever run an ad or say something that is not accurate, I hope they either take off the ad or make it -- or make it correct. I guess that you said that they -- they said that you voted to make felons vote? Is that it?

SANTORUM: That's correct. That's what the ad says.

ROMNEY: And you're saying that you didn't?

SANTORUM: Well, first, I'm asking you to answer the question, because that's how you got the time. It's actually my time. So if you can answer the question, do you believe, do you believe that felons who have served their time, gone through probation and parole, exhausted their entire sentence, should they be given the right to have a vote?

This is Martin Luther King Day. This is a huge deal in the African-American community, because we have very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately high rates, particularly with drug crimes, in the African-American community.

The bill I voted on was the Martin Luther King Voting Rights bill. And this was a provision that said, particularly targeted African-Americans. And I voted to allow -- to allow them to have their voting rights back once they completed their sentence.


QUESTION: Governor Romney, 30 seconds to respond.

ROMNEY: Yes. I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again. That's my own view.


SANTORUM: That's very -

QUESTION: Last thing, Senator.

SANTORUM: You know, it's very interesting you should say that, Governor Romney, because in the state of Massachusetts, when you were governor, the law was that not only could violent felons vote after they exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole, which was a more liberal position than I took when I voted for the bill in the -- in the Congress. So...


BRETT BAIER: Governor?

SANTORUM: If, in fact -- let me finish -- if, in fact, you felt so passionately about this that you are now going to go out and have somebody criticize me for restoring voting rights to people who have -- who have exhausted their sentence and served their time and paid their debt to society, then why didn't you try to change that when you were governor of Massachusetts?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, as...


As governor of Massachusetts, I had an 85 percent Democratic legislature. This is something we discussed. My view was people who committed violent crimes should not be able to vote, even upon coming out of office.
Secondly, I did not have a super PAC run an ad against you. That's -- as you know, that's something which is completely out of the control of candidates.

One of the things I decried in the current financial system that gets behind campaigns is that we have these voting requirements that put these super PACs in power that say things we disagree with. And I'll tell you, there have been some -- there have been some attacks on me, I mean, that -- that have just been outrageous and completely inaccurate and have been shown to be inaccurate. That's the nature of the process. I hope...

BAIER: We have a...

ROMNEY: I hope -- I hope it ends. I hope it ends.


BAIER: We have a lot of questions.

SANTORUM: I need to -- I need to respond to this. What the governor said is he didn't propose anything to change that law, and what he's saying is that the -- the ad that says that I said that -- or I voted to allow felons to vote is inaccurate. And it is inaccurate. And if I had something -- the super PAC that was supporting me that was inaccurate, I would go out and say, "Stop it," that you're representing me and you're representing my campaign. Stop it.


BAIER: Governor -- Governor Perry, go ahead.

RICK PERRY: Here's -- here's the issue.

ROMNEY: I actually think...

PERRY: And this is a great -- this is a great example of the insiders that are having the conversation up here. And the fact of the matter is this. (APPLAUSE) Washington, D.C., needs to leave the states alone and let the states decide these issues and don't do it from Washington, D.C. That's what needs to happen.


BAIER: Governor Romney, any response to either one of those?

ROMNEY: I -- I agree with Governor Perry, that it should be decided at the state level. I also agree with -- with Congressman Paul that -- that a number of the positions that were described that Governor -- or that Senator Santorum took were -- were positions that were very different than the conservative views that he would suggest today.

I think the decision on -- on voting against right-to-work was a bad decision and was made -- as he indicated -- based upon the -- the reflection of the people of the state he was representing. It's politics, if you will.

In my state, I had a state that -- that said that they did not favor my position. I'm not letting felons who had committed violent crimes vote. I think it's a -- a position that's reasonable, and that's the position I've got.

BAIER: We may have to rethink that whole bell thing, but we're going to take a break right here. Remember to send your thoughts on how the candidates are answering the questions via Twitter. Tweet the candidate's last name and hashtag answer or hashtag dodge. Send me questions at bretbaier. Include that hashtag scdebate.
After the break, key issues and some more fireworks. We'll see. Stay with us.
Okay, so maybe I watched a bit more than I thought....

BUT, my take-away from this small segment of the debate is that Romney is not getting any kind of a 'pass' on his record.

I thought that Rick Santorum did a great job of holding Romney's feet to the proverbial fire.

I thought that Rick Perry is just trying to keep his political head above water.

And I thought that Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were... well, there.

All of that said, the majority of debate reactions that I've been seeing today are all of a similar tone; Mitt Romney took a beating, but nobody else stepped up to replace him as front-runner. FirstRead:
Last night’s Republican debate summed up the upcoming South Carolina primary, if not the entire GOP nominating race: Despite front-runner Mitt Romney showing some real vulnerabilities -- in fact, it might have been his most uneven debate performance to date -- none of his conservative alternatives owned the night. Why? All of them (Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum) had their strong moments and received plenty of applause from the rowdy audience. And given the evangelical endorsement of Santorum over the weekend, that’s only good news for Romney. After last night’s debate, the conservative vote might be more splintered than it was going into the debate. The only way that Romney will lose Saturday’s South Carolina primary is if one of the candidates consolidates the conservative vote. And last night, we didn’t see ONE of them emerge.
Romney did manage to recover for some better moments, but overall it was not his best night — and it served as a reminder that he has thin skin when attacked. The good news for him? There’s only one debate left before South Carolina votes Saturday, when he could come close to wrapping up the nomination in a state that is hardly favorable terrain for his candidacy.
Bottom line, Romney still owns the front-runner's slot.

The strangest moment from the debate that I've seen is this [via Buzzfeed]:

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that the crowd is booing Juan Williams' mention of Mexico. REALLY? Booing Mexico?

In my search to find reasons to boo one of the United States' neighboring countries, I found this interesting piece at CNN:
Lately it's hard to tell the difference between a presidential debate and "The Jerry Springer Show." Yeah, I know. Some of you have been saying this for months. But my comment isn't a criticism of the candidates, but the live audience. I was hoping this audience "whoop" factor would go away over the long debate season, but it has only grown worse.

Are they serving alcohol at the debates? It seems like it. In last night's Republican presidential debate, held in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in South Carolina, the chaotic audience once again played an awkward role in the questions and answers.
Hmm. Alcohol, you say?

So, there you have it. Now, get ready for the next debate -- tomorrow night. Ugh.

Photo: David Goldman/AP photo