The moment from the debate everyone is talking about:
Josh Marshall focuses on the exchange:
I think Newt basically won this debate and maybe the primary with the opening fusilade against John King about the Marianne tell-all interview. Shameless, hubris, chutzpah, whatever. It was pitch perfect for his intended audience. He took control of the debate and drew down all the tension about when the debate would turn to the open marriage stuff.
Will Wilkinson counters:
Newt's desperate opening attack on the media for daring to listen to what his ex-wife has to say about him was enthusiastically received by the crowd, but I thought made him look like a snarling, cornered dog.
Newt's little show of high moral dudgeon when asked at the opening gun about his ex-wife's allegations of cruel, self-serving betrayal is getting rave reviews as performance art. And it was an astounding display of the Audacity of Hubris. In the space of a minute or two, Gingrich managed to blame or condemn questioner John King, the news media, his ex-wife and Barack Obama for his being forced to address the consequences of his serial adultery.
Gingrich's opening Joe McCarthy offensive — he reveled in assaulting Bill Clinton's personal transgressions, but his are unfairly targeted by the vindictive media — was perhaps the most despicable display of grotesque demagoguery I have ever witnessed.
Another debate highlight getting a lot of attention:
The tax return question was totally predictable, and Mitt Romney blew it. He "may" release more returns for other years. Will he release as many years as possible, as his father did? "Maybe." Maybe! There are justifiable boos from the cheap seats.
E.D. Kain thinks there's "something fishy about these tax returns and Romney’s inability to just release them to the public":
The difference between Romney and Gingrich is that we’re all pretty sure we know all about Gingrich’s dirty laundry. Even his ex-wife’s tell-all interview isn’t going to shine any new light on the former speaker. But Romney remains something of a closed book and I bet that makes some voters nervous.
What is in Mitt Romney’s tax returns? I have no idea, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s even more damning than speculation has suggested. Romney’s answers on the tax questions were rambling and unclear, which is remarkable for a candidate who is so intellectually sharp, who prides himself on careful preparation, and who had to know the question was coming. This issue has rattled him, obviously, and I’m eager to find out why.
Adam Serwer explains why the Democrats want Romney to release his returns:
The Obama administration offered a tax proposal last year that would have made the wealthy pay a larger share of their income. The proposal was dubbed "The Buffet Rule," after wealthy investor Warren Buffett, who said that some of his employees pay lower tax rates than he does. At the time, Democrats salivated at the possiblity that Romney might also be paying a lower effective tax rate than people who don't own more than one house, even as he's proposing even larger tax cuts for the well-off.
In the video above, Romney claims that he didn't get any inheritance. Nick Baumann points out that Romney did get money from his parents but chose to give it to charity and his children:
Passing your inheritance on to your children is not the same as not inheriting money at all. And it actually makes me a bit curious: a common estate-tax reduction strategy known as a dynasty trust relies on skipping generations. Did Romney pass on his inheritance to his kids for tax reasons? It's hard to know without seeing his tax returns—and that's another reason why he should release them.
Santorum's strongest attack against Gingrich:
Santorum didn’t do well enough tonight to win South Carolina, but did he do well enough to keep some of those would-be Newt voters from defecting?
Michelle Cottle shakes her head:
[T]here is just something about Senator Sweater Vest that doesn’t resonate, no matter how fired up he gets. It is a matter of presentation: He is too plaintive, too beseeching—even when he’s got both barrels blazing. He is begging rather than commanding us to recognize Gingrich’s many absurdities.
Michael Medved thought Santorum underperformed:
The big loser: Rick Santorum, whose insufferably sanctimonious demeanor answered all questions about why social conservatives have begun to coalesce around Newt Gingrich rather than the former Pennsylvania senator. His decision to issue smug, full-bore attacks on every one of his rivals backfired badly.
Dreher says both Gingrich and Santorum did well:
Romney lost badly. But because Santorum and Gingrich were equally good, it might well have meant a Romney win on election day — this, if it divides the anti-Romney vote. Because Gingrich has the momentum, I have to think he helped himself the most tonight. I think he did a terrific job insulating himself with GOP voters against the Marianne bombshell — and that’s going to be the biggest talking point of the next news cycle.
Joe Gandelman agrees:
There were some sharp exchanges, angry moments. But in general? I did NOT see a knockout. If someone wants red meat they will vote for Newt Gingrich who threw the most of it to GOPers. … If Gingrich is surging and not hurt by his ex-wife’s interview the debate will allow surge to continue. Santorum: a good Gingrich alternative but Gingrich is better at hurling the red meat (such as his predictable debate attack on the media).
John Hinderaker is nearly alone declaring Romney the victor:
Mitt Romney … was just as effective as Gingrich, at times more so, as when he accepted responsibility for being successful. My guess is that Romney won the South Carolina primary tonight.
And Jennifer Rubin, voicing another minority opinion, gives Gingrich's performance relatively low marks:
In short, Gingrich had a great five minutes, but did not carry the rest of the debate.