Newt Gingrich stumbled in his explanations for taking money from Freddie Mac, but he managed to keep the "zany" at bay, and was one of the winners in last night's debate for several observers. But some dark horses—most notably Michele Bachmann—also surged to the front of the pack in some estimations. Among the scorecards:
- Gingrich was "the strongest," for Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast, "with the exception of his dreadful defensiveness on his whoring for money in the rotating doors of Washington's corrupt elite." But Sullivan also gave high marks to Jon Huntsman, Bachmann, and Ron Paul, who especially "stood out" for his defense of the judiciary from presidential interference. Mitt Romney "needed to up his game and score some real points," notes Sullivan. "He failed."
- If Gingrich went into the debate the front-runner, he left the front-runner, concludes EJ Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post. He toned down the "zany," and his "problematic" aim to pin back the ears of judges no doubt played well with conservatives. But he was rocked back on his heels by Bachmann over the Freddie Mac issue, the "one moment in the debate during which he did not seem at ease," notes Dionne.
- Newt was a "peevish" loser, scoffs Dionne colleague Chris Cillizza. Gingrich took a major hit on the Freddie Mac money issue and "tried to save himself by drawing a distinction between consulting and lobbying that average people just don’t grasp," notes Cillizza. The winners were "underrated debater" Bachmann, a "forceful and energetic" Rick Perry, and Romney, "at his very best" until he headed into flip-flop territory, concludes Cillizza.
- The only losers in the debate, as far as Lucy Madison at CBS News is concerned, were Rick Santorum and Huntsman. Though Gingrich was "hammered hard" over Freddie Mac, he rebounded quickly in the second half of the debate. Romney stayed smartly focused on President Obama, and Bachmann showed "she knows how to take a punch." Even Perry "seemed more confident."
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