With apologies to Fiona Apple, at least three of the candidates in tonight’s GOP debate are probably humming the Criminal lyrics right now as they do their final debate prep. What’s at stake tonight for Speaker Gingrich, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum is nothing less than their chance to become the Republican nominee. Should be worth tuning in.
Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the state of play for each of our doughty soldiers who are still marching toward the fall battle with Team Obama.
Newt Gingrich. The former speaker needs desperately to recapture some of the lightning in a bottle that helped him win the South Carolina primary after two strong debate performances. Failure to deliver tonight means that Georgia – the Speaker’s mountain redoubt, his last bunker – is almost certainly lost. Without Georgia, the case for a Gingrich candidacy is non-existent even to Sheldon Adelson (and Mr. Adelson, if you’re reading, feel free to drop that $100 million off at my house; I’ll burn it – most of it anyway – in the back yard just as colorfully as Newt can do it).
Mitt Romney. A bad debate performance tonight and Governor Coiffure can take the next 6 days off because he’ll have lost Michigan and – possibly – Arizona as well. Most polls have Santorum up in Michigan (albeit with the margin of error) and closing in Arizona. This is just the latest in a series of bad news moments for Romney that include getting swept two weeks ago in three state contests, being out-fundraised and having members of the Republican establishment (Mike DeWine for example) jumping ship or are sitting on their hands. He’s been off-message so long while fighting fires about his relations with conservatives, his lack of connection and authenticity and more that I doubt he knows what his message is supposed to be at this point. Lose Michigan and/or Arizona and Romney loses the only things that got him here in the first place – a shitload of money and some unfocused perception that his winning was inevitable – are gone.
Rick Santorum. Senator Sunshine needs a strong debate performance as well, both to prove that he’s got more staying power than his predecessors as leader of the “I’m Not Mittt” club and to walk back some of his wacky moments over the last couple of weeks. You know, things like Satan is undermining America, it would be legal to stop the sale of birth control products, Protestants – and the President – are outside mainstream Christian values, public schooling is obsolete, prenatal testing is form of eugenics. Stuff that probably couldn’t get majority support from the House GOP caucus. Failure to do so means that the tide has crested and what we’re seeing is the bathtub ring of his candidacy.
I’m popping an extra-big bowl of popcorn.
PS – No, I didn’t forget about Ron Paul, just don’t care. He’s in it no matter what, he still has no chance of winning, tonight he’ll once again be treated like Uncle Teddy in Arsenic & Old Lace whereby the moderators will every once in a while throw him a question just so he can talk about San Juan Hill or digging the Panama Canal or whatever it is we should be doing under his worldview.