Bracket everything you know or think about the candidates and the winner of Thursday’s debate in Charleston is clear: Santorum totally owned it. He stood way above the others in the logical play of assertion, response, evisceration, and focus.
Paul was in a hermetically sealed bubble. Again making observations and statements that are true and interesting, and stuff of a sort you’d never expect in a GOP debate, he nevertheless can’t break out into the open field of recognition. When he tries to link them up into a larger, convincing narrative, it falls flat into the nonsense worship of “proper procedures”. Praxis and attention to the empirical manifold is so lacking a moderator can be forgiven for not taking him seriously as part of the real debate - to say nothing of the crowd and other candidates, who have to regard it as submerged in another mytho-sphere.
If they’re all superheroes with special powers, Paul is Captain Quixotic up against powers frothy, presumptuous and grandiose. Proper procedures and fundamental formulae make up the lance in Virtue’s charge against the Way of the World. We see the windmill’s arms spread out and embrace the Knight’s pure trajectory - and so can just about everyone else.
But, starting things off, Gingrich freakin’ Christ! The premier architect of divisive, negative & destructive politics, the seminal catalyst of talk radio atmospherics, going all ballistic like that! Our “historian” is oblivious to his own past. And ironically, his little drama game there was itself part and parcel of his cute, high-school level, divisive/negative gamesmanship. Anyone possessed of historical consciousness can rationally conclude that the people who applauded are morons. The only sentient response to that act is “please remove the cork”.
Ugly too insofar as he put John King in an impossible situation, unable to follow up or disagree without annihilating his role as moderator and becoming part of the debate. Cute, it boils down to the bravery of being out of range.
Elsewhere, Gingrich was off balance and lame in his responses. When Santorum zinged the line of the night - "Newt has never had a problem with grandiosity" - Newt played right into Rick’s attack vector and proudly identified himself as grandiose! Santorum lowers the scythe masterfully with a perfectly apt distinction between someone possessed of an effusive cauldron of ideas and an effective political agency. It was brutal - and it wouldn’t be the only time Gingrich’s body language revealed severe discomfort. Justice requires that Ned Beatty host SNL and spoof this encounter.
Romney was terrible with a weak barrage of glittering generalities, delivered in obnoxious avoidance of any real question - and ultimately punctuated by his “Maybe” quip on the tax thing. Amazingly plastic with a sheen of smiley unresponsiveness, his only mojo comes in popping Newt over his legacy and the Reagan diary, and brushing off Gingrich’s ad hoc reply over how Mitt should be thankful - effectively nailing his tendency to sound like a name dropper and a credit hog. Spark aside, Romney can’t or won’t shift gears now that the polls are tight, staying in a “safe zone”, talking a lot and saying nothing. If he only had as many clues as grandchildren.
Presumption and grandiosity lost to a frothy mix whipped in the hydraulics of Santorum’s disciplined debate rhythm. Score one for the champion of a “bottom up free market system.” He wore out both Romney and Gingrich over the individual mandate. And earlier, he shot through the vapor of Romney’s effusive praise of pure capitalism, highlighting the bottom again - a blue collar basis where people are “paddling alone”. With an angle Nixon once played, he left Romney holding a fig leaf for cover - and questions remaining about the spirit and ethos of his capitalism.
It may take something akin to a phenomenological reduction, you know - in effect to rigorously hold one’s nose over Rick Santorum’s faux Christian proto-fascism, but just looking at logical play and debate skill it’s clear he won hands down. Insofar as anyone insists Gingrich won, they’re employing a confused set of metrics. As the South Carolina Primary returns come in, it appears Newt’s concoction of pseudo-outrage and racial ventriloquism has bewitched Palmetto sensibility. Unsurprisingly in our epoch, the brand of “debate champion” looks and feels better than the real thing.