This was a big weekend for political junkies. Two, count ’em, two GOP debates took place back-to-back on the eve of the Republican New Hampshire primary election scheduled this coming Tuesday. After Republican front runner Mitt Romney barely won the Iowa Caucuses by a mere eight votes, observers were confident that Saturday night’s debate would be something of a cage match, providing the non-Romney candidates with the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to pummel the former Massachusetts governor in hopes of gaining more momentum as they head to the South Carolina primary.
Few election watchers doubted that the candidates who are trailing Romney in the polls would come out swinging, aiming to come away with the title of Republican giant slayer. Interestingly, that didn’t happen and Saturday’s debate turned out to be a win by default for Romney, even though Jon Hunstman got the most applause and Rick Santorum got most of the attention with questions about his ideas for overturning the Supreme Court decision that protects anyone’s right to have access to birth control.
As I watched the Twitter stream at #nhdebate, I found I wasn’t the only one wondering when the GOP field — now all white men after Congresswoman Michele Bachmann suspended her campaign after finishing sixth in the Iowa Caucuses — was going to get around to talking about the economy.
Sunday morning brought us round two of the New Hampshire debates and the Republican field made up for its failure to take as many punches as possible at Romney, starting with Newt Gingrich’s comments that Romney was a “timid moderate” who spoke in terms of “pious baloney” compared to the other uber-conservatives on the stage.
It would take way too long to recap everything that happened in the hours of the two New Hampshire debates, but there were some memorable highlights that can only be called, “Debate Moments That Made Us Scratch Our Heads.” Here are five that stood out for me:
1. Ron Paul lauded Martin Luther King, Jr. for being one of his favorite Libertarians. This remark had many debate watchers scratching their heads in light of the fact that Paul has been under attack for what some have called racist comments in newsletters sent out under his name decades ago.
2. Gingrich wants to be a man of the people, but can’t lose the professorial vocabulary. Gingrich would love if we’d forget his Tiffany’s credit line, the Greek cruises and that he’s just as much of a member of the “elite” as many of President Obama’s opponents call him. So it doesn’t help his cause when he attacks others for being “imperious.” That kind of vocabulary is probably handy for “Words with Friends,” but not so much if you want to convince voters you’re a relatable kind of guy.
3. Jon Huntsman showed off his mad Mandarin skills. As a mom by adoption of a daughter from China, I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who can speak Mandarin Chinese. I’ve tried to learn. Trust me, it isn’t easy. But Huntsman, who slipped in a line of Mandarin in one of his debate responses, has been ridiculed by political commentators, calling that moment a bit off key. When responding in English, Huntsman actually got the most applause Saturday night from the New Hampshire crowd (were they saying, “Wo ai ni?”), so I wonder if it isn’t shortsighted to mock the man who is fluent in the language so many of us would like our kids to learn to have an advantage in the 21st century job market.
4. Rick Perry loves the tea party and socialism. Well, he probably only loves the tea party, but it was apparent that one of his debate strategies was to invoke the principles of the tea party movement as much as possible, in hopes of winning the votes that might have gone to Michele Bachmann. And Perry also made sure to say as many sentences as possible that included the words “Obama” and “socialism.” If that’s all he’s got, I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be in this race.
5. Rick Santorum says it’s class warfare to say America has a middle class. I had a hard time figuring out how this argument, while catchy at first, would resonate with most people in New Hampshire. But Santorum chastised Romney for talking about America’s middle class, claiming that such language buys into what he described as President Obama’s efforts to divide and separate the country. Maybe Santorum was focused on class because he was excited about the season premiere of PBS’ Downton Abbey and forgot that he’s also been talking about helping the “middle class” in America.
This post was originally written for iVillage’s 2012 iVote coverage.