Falling Short

Paul Begala: Mitt Romney Shows His Many Faults in the Jacksonville Debate

Mitt had a good night, but not good enough to distract attention from the many vulnerabilities he’d bring to the general election next fall.

01.27.12 4:05 AM ET

The clear winner of the CNN debate was Wolf Blitzer. He called out Mitt Romney for falsely claiming he was not behind an ad that says Newt Gingrich called Spanish the language of the ghetto. He stood up to Newt’s phony anti-press bluster. And he included second-tier candidates like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

Overall, Mitt Romney had a strong performance during the two-hour debate. But you can see the fault lines where my fellow Democrats are going to put the dynamite if he becomes the GOP nominee:

• Credibility: In addition to his fib about his ad, he lied about whether his investments in Fannie and Freddie were in a blind trust. He also lied when he said he never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. But when he voted for the late Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic primary, George H.W. Bush was on the GOP primary ballot, challenged by Pat Buchanan.

• Elitism: After Newt Gingrich’s flight of fancy regarding building a colony on the moon, Romney should have returned to earth. Instead he said if someone proposed that idea to him when he was a CEO, he would “fire him.” Somewhere in Chicago, a young Obama aide hit “SAVE.” There is also a “The Butler Did It” phenomenon afoot. Romney blames his trustee for his investments in Fannie and Freddie. He blames others for the anti-Gingrich ad on which he says “I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message.”

• Romneycare: After 19 debates Mitt still doesn’t have a straight answer. Rick Santorum skillfully dissected Romney on the topic. If Romney is the GOP nominee, you can be sure Barack Obama will do the same.

• Out of Touch: Romney babbles when he gets in trouble, and he babbled like crazy when he discussed his wealth. New revelations that Romney failed to disclose his offshore accounts in the Caymans, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, as well as Mitt’s ongoing refusal to release more than last year’s tax returns, spell real trouble in the fall.

Newt Gingrich did not have the debate he needed. Without cheap shots like those he used in prior debates against John King and Juan Williams, he looked a bit flat. He spent an inordinate time yapping about building a colony on the Moon. In his 2002 book To Renew America, Newt even speculated about sex in space: “I believe that space tourism will be a common fact of life during the adulthood of children born this year, that honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020. Imagine weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attractions.”

I don’t know about you, but I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Rick Santorum had his best debate moment when he introduced his 93-year-old mom—and later when he talked about his wife. There is a real authenticity that Santorum exudes at moments like this. He clearly loves his family. (I just wish he’d love all the members of the American family—including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders.)