Newt Gingrich grabbed the spotlight in Thursday's GOP debate with a "rousing denunciation" of the media for focusing attention on his ex-wife's claim that he asked for an open marriage. Gingrich called the story false, saying he was "appalled" such "trash" even came up in a presidential debate — and got a standing ovation. Things didn't go as well for Mitt Romney, whose polling lead has evaporated ahead of South Carolina's Saturday primary. Romney was booed after he fumbled a question about releasing his tax records. Did Gingrich just weaken Romney's chances of wrapping up the GOP nomination early?
Yes, call off the coronation: Gingrich was already surging, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, and his clear victory in this debate will only fuel his momentum leading up to the vote. His mauling of CNN moderator John King for opening with a question about his personal life allowed him to tap into "conservative anger at the media," and the crowd stayed behind him all night. Just a week ago, it seemed "implausible" that Gingrich would take the state — now it's a new race.
"Newt wins, CNN loses, the battle Of Charleston"
The night wasn't all bad for Romney: Yes, Mitt lurched into awkwardness when discussing his tax returns, says Chris Cilizza at The Washington Post, but the night wasn't a complete bust for him. He finally found a compelling way to counter questions about his wealth, saying he was "not going to apologize for being successful." (Soundbite alert!) For Gingrich to really derail Romney, he must be perceived as the only viable conservative alternative, and Rick Santorum made a strong case that Gingrich is an unreliable spokesman for the right.
"South Carolina Republican debate: Winners and losers"
Romney's play-it-safe routine isn't working: "If Mitt Romney loses the South Carolina primary Saturday, he can only blame himself," says Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner. He has to develop "firm answers" to obvious questions like the one on his tax returns, and show the fire Republican voters want to see in their nominee. "Maybe Romney needs to lose South Carolina, so he can realize that playing it nice is not going to win him... a general election against President Obama."
"Prevent defense killing Romney"