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Most Explosive GOP Debate Moment? Gingrich Blasts Media for Ex-Wife’s Report

Gingrich blasts back at the media, Romney fumbles on taxes. See the fireworks at Thursday’s debate.

Tax Return Redux

Gingrich's team released his taxes during the Thursday debate. Rick Santorum said he would release them as soon as he gets home to his computer where he stores his documents. Ron Paul may not release them because he said he doesn’t take money from special interests and he doesn’t have nearly as much income as the other candidates. That leaves Romney, who danced around the issue, saying he would release his taxes after they are done in April. But as King pointed out, it was Romney’s own father who set the standard for transparency with personal finances, because he released 12 years of tax returns. Will Romney follow his father’s example? “Maybe,” said Romney with a laugh. “I don’t know how many years I’ll release.” The audience booed.

Gingrich Attacks

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich got things off to a fiery start. Asked about his second wife’s explosive charges that he wanted an open marriage, Gingrich assailed moderator John King for asking the question. “I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that,” Gingrich said, noting that the question was “as close to despicable” as anything he could think of. When King tried to backpedal, saying that ABC aired the interview, Gingrich attacked. “Don’t try to blame somebody else,” said Gingrich. “I’m tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”

Health-Care Reform Under Fire

It wouldn’t be a Republican debate if they didn’t go after the new health-care law. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney went after President Obama for taking a top-down approach. But perhaps the best line of the night was Gingrich’s barb when he said the new law had to allow for people up to the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ health-care coverage because they didn’t have jobs. “Elect us and your kids will be able to move out because they’ll have work,” Gingrich said.

More Tussling Over Health Care

The candidates weren’t pulling any punches tonight. Former Senator Rick Santorum went after Romney for the health-care overhaul he signed into law in Massachusetts, which has an individual mandate like the federal law. Santorum criticized Romney for his top-down approach to health care and putting more people on government-subsidized health care. Of Romney and Gingrich, Santorum said that he was working on conservative causes “while these two guys were playing footsie with the left.” Romney’s retort: “If you want to be governor of Massachusetts, that’s fine, but I want to be president of the United States.”

Who Can Handle It?

At this point in the race, the candidates have already made their policy pitches and are now getting down to the business of attacking each other. Gingrich has been encouraging Santorum to get out of the race, arguing the former senator wouldn’t be able to beat Obama—a characterization Santorum scoffed at. Santorum pointed out that he beat the former speaker in both New Hampshire and Iowa. (He won the latter by 24 votes.) But then he turned the tables on Gingrich. “Grandiosity has never been a problem for Newt Gingrich,” said Santorum. “These are not cogent thoughts. Let’s just be honest.”

Romney’s Best Moment

It was a softball question, but Romney finally hit one out of the park. When John King asked the candidates what they would have changed in their campaign, Romney said to laughs and applause, “I’d a worked to get 25 more votes in Iowa, that’s for sure.”

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Can’t Get No Respect

For most of the campaign, Congressman Ron Paul has had a tough time getting the media to pay attention to him, and this debate was no different. Moderator John King let the other three candidates spar over the issue of abortion, but wanted to move on to another question before giving Paul a chance to respond. When the audience booed, King gave the floor to Paul, who waved to the crowd. “Once again, it’s a medical subject, and I’m a doctor,” said Paul. “I can remember the very early years studying obstetrics. It was before the age of abortion, and I was told taking care of a woman that’s pregnant you have two patients, and I think that solves a lot of the problems of when life begins.”