It seemed for a time that every other GOP primary debate was being labeled the Must-Win Battle of the Primary for one or another of the candidates. This time around, though, those words are true for arguably three of the four who remain.
Each of the big three – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich – have everything to lose and a world to gain at Wednesday’s CNN debate in Mesa, AZ. Perhaps not a whole world to gain, but at least a Republican presidential nomination.
One of the three – Newt Gingrich – is adrift in space and low on oxygen. He desperately needs to use the bully pulpit of this debate forum to get his mojo back, and get a bit of buzz buzzing. He killed his own buzz during and shortly after the Florida primary when he went in attack mode on the press, kicking them off his plane and kicking them again verbally when they came crawling back around. They’re not covering his campaign much these days. Imagine that. (Debate question we offer to moderator John King: Start by asking Mr. Gingrich about the threesome he tried to make happen a dozen years ago including then-wife Marianne and then-mistress Callista. Just to see how Newt reacts. Could be priceless.)
Newt comes into the debate with a chip on his shoulder the size of a plate of grits. (Embarrassing, but it’s the most expedient Southern allusion we can come up with off the cuff.) His rivals bailed on him for the March 3 debate slated for Atlanta, GA. He was really, really counting on that one to gin up his supporters in his home state – and the other candidates decided to cut him off from that lifeline. Expect him to rip into the others for "not playing fair," or however he’s going to describe it. Also, expect him to belittle Rick Santorum for basically being younger than him.
Mitt Romney needs to get his "supporters" back (if you can use such a strong term for their relationship to him). How he’ll do that is an open question – a term we realize sums up Mr. Romney entirely. Today he’s attacking President Obama for trying to institute some sort of godless secular state. What a brilliant idea. Wonder where he got that one. (We’d like to see John King ask him about that dog he strapped to his roof once. Then zing him with a Cayman Islands question. Something innocuous. Does he have a favorite hotel/restaurant combo down there? Something in the under-three-grand-a-night range?)
Mr. Romney’s "supporters" are bailing on him again. They’re currently trying out Rick Santorum. (One of these days we expect them to flock to Gary Johnson, just for the hell of it.) He’s losing to Mr. Santorum even in his home state of Michigan. It’s sad. Kind of.
Rick Santorum has to keep from going full-on, triple XXX Papal in front of a national audience. We’re not sure he can keep from it. We get the sense he thinks it’s the winning ticket for him, kicking ass and naming saints. We’d like John King to throw him some theology softballs, let Mr. Santorum riff on Jews in limbo, the hawking of papal dispensations, and why women are so dang sinful. Frankly, Father Santorum is confused. He’s popular because he’s not Mitt Romney, not because he wants to ignite the Catholic equivalent of jihad on an unsuspecting America.
We don’t know what John King should ask Ron Paul. Nothing, probably, just let Dr. Paul talk about fiat currency for his allotted time.
The one debate question we actually would like to see asked:
Of the two most recent presidential administrations, that of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, which do you think was most successful, and why?
The last candidate we recall praising George W. Bush was Michele Bachman. Look what happened to her. It would be wonderful, though, to hear these fine men, stout and true, all with that dreaded "R" after their names, have to defend the worst president of the past hundred years. They would find a way not to, of course, flipping the question to attack President Obama, or jumping back a few decades to chant "Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan" like prep-school Hare Krishnas. The Voldemort of the campaign, He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken, would once again be ignored.
Or maybe they'd embrace their once-beloved former president. Either way, it'd be fun to watch.