11.23.11 3:04 AM ET
Daily Beast Contributors Weigh In on the CNN GOP Debate
Armed with new frontrunner status, Newt dominated the field at last night’s GOP debate. Howard Kurtz, Michelle Goldberg, Paul Begala, and more columnists weigh in.
There was a moment, toward the end of the CNN debate, when Newt Gingrich took over with what he knows is an unpopular position in a Republican primary.
Sounding suspiciously like a compassionate conservative, Gingrich said that if you’re an illegal immigrant who has lived here for 25 years and obeyed the law and is part of the community, “I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family…and kick you out.”
But Gingrich showed himself to willing to fight for a principle, and he did it without attacking anyone on the stage. He may get beaten up for it, as Rick Perry was when he defended tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants, but he resisted the urge to pander.
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney won the debate, as expected, for the simple reason that it’s possible to envision either of them, and none of the others, leading the nation at a time of crisis. Gingrich delivered the least demagogic immigration response in any GOP debate so far by acknowledging it’s neither possible nor desirable to deport or ignore all 12 million here without documentation. He also persuasively insisted that any strike on Iran must serve to destroy the regime, not strengthen it. Informed, self-assured, with Reaganite insistence on resuming America’s world-leading role, both men could debate Barack Obama credibly, and one of the two of them will almost certainly get the chance to do so.
In the CNN national-security debate, Mitt Romney played his usual Chris Evert game, methodically returning every serve. But Newt Gingrich, the new frontrunner, played like Ilie Nastase—brilliant when he can keep his volcanic temper under control. And in the debate he successfully held his temper in check.
Gingrich, God bless him, rushed into the minefield of immigration. He called for something less than the comprehensive reform favored by President Obama, but more than the electrified fence and the alligator-filled moat that some on the right yearn for. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's support for the Texas DREAM Act has helped thwart his candidacy (well, that and being a total moron in prior debates). So Gingrich showed real guts in refusing to pander to the most mean-spirited xenophobic tendencies of the far right.
It could end up being Newt Gingrich’s decency on undocumented immigrants, rather than his indecency in a host of other areas, that does him in. In recent weeks, Republican primary voters have been desperate enough for any conceivable alternative to Mitt Romney that they’ve seemed willing to overlook Gingrich’s adulterous history and his influence peddling for Fannie May and Freddie Mac. But expressing sympathy for people in this country illegally? That’s likely to go over a lot worse than abandoning one’s cancer-stricken wife.
Newt Gingrich did well, yes, but the winner of this debate was...Barack Obama. There were loads of shots at him, notably from Rick Perry and sometimes from Michele Bachmann, with a couple from Jon Hunstman, who has to distance himself from Obama for obvious reasons. But I counted roughly zero really serious criticisms of Obama that might resonate beyond the choir bench.
Even Bachmann proved a voice of moderation. How's that for a sentence we never thought we'd see? But her response on Pakistan was entirely reasonable, and really not different at all from the current administration's policy.