Saturday's GOP Debate: It's Going to Get Nasty

Ron Paul has put out the most vicious attack ad on Gingrich. Its message is that Gingrich is basically corrupt and it hits him for supporting an individual health care mandate. In recent days, Paul has called him a “counterfeit conservative” and says he must “expose” him. This language indicates that this will be his most confrontational debate yet and for the first time, he’ll have most of his rivals backing him up

Michele Bachmann has been the harshest towards Gingrich in person. She has gone so far as to call him (and Romney) a "frugal socialist" and accuse him of being a "poster child for crony capitalism." Her main criticism of him on policy has been his, in her words, “long history of supporting amnesty.” She also says he’s gotten rich off of “influence-peddling” and questions his credentials as a conservative.

At the same time, she’s been changing her style to be more like Gingrich. During her speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Wednesday, she adopted his promise to authorize the movement of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem immediately after the inauguration. She’s also become more of a policy wonk, throwing out details, facts, and statistics to show her depth of knowledge. She is willing to go toe-to-toe with Gingrich and she can fight. Ask Tim Pawlenty.

Rick Santorum is more hesitant to go after his long-time friend, but is the only candidate specifically calling out Gingrich on his personal history and for having an oversized ego. In interviews where he is asked about Gingrich’s baggage, Santorum has no problem saying, “Character is definitely an issue.” He says that leaders must exercise humility and that voters must consider how a candidate handles success.

On policy, he’s focused on Gingrich’s views on illegal immigration and criticizes him for putting social issues in “the back of the bus” as speaker. Santorum, unlike the others, may be able to wait to swing because he and Gingrich are the only two scheduled participants in the December 27 Newsmax debate with Donald Trump as the moderator. If the event is not canceled, that will be Santorum’s time to draw a sharp contrast.

Rick Perry says he’ll stay above the fray and that he’s counting on Romney and Gingrich to knock each other out. His main objective tonight is to compete with Gingrich over the evangelical vote. He is the candidate that has come the closest to bringing up Gingrich’s three marriages. “I didn’t make an oath just to my wife. I made an oath to God when I married my wife,” Perry recently said. He may make that point again tonight, even though it could come off as too low of a blow.

Jon Huntsman has chosen to campaign in New Hampshire instead of take part in tonight’s debate in Iowa. It is puzzling why a candidate longing for media attention would forfeit the exposure. However, he will have an opportunity to contrast himself with Gingrich on Monday when the two have a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate.

Gingrich will have the biggest target on his back tonight that any candidate has had so far.

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