10:38 AM, Nov 10, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
At CNBC's GOP presidential debate in Michigan Wednesday night, Rick Perry stumbled badly. "I have been watching presidential debates since the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, and it was the worst moment in a debate I have ever seen," Michael Barone wrote of Perry's brain freeze. Herman Cain, under fire for allegations of sexual harassment, derided House minority leader Nancy Pelosi as "Princess Nancy." Cain said later in an interview with CNBC: "That was a statement I probably should not have made." Yes, probably.
As he has done in the other debates, Mitt Romney turned in a solid performance, but Newt Gingrich was the one who really seemed to impress.
Near the beginning of the debate, CNBC's Jim Cramer teed up the perfect question for Gingrich: "Do you think that companies can both be profitable and be able to create jobs?" The question, which was just plain dumb, gave Gingrich the opportunity to hit a sweet spot: attacking the media and the Occupy Wall Street movement at the same time.
"Look, obviously, corporations can and should do both," Gingrich said. "And what is amazing to me is the inability of much of our academic world and much of our news media and most of the people on Occupy Wall Street to have a clue about history. (APPLAUSE) In this town, Henry Ford started as an Edison Electric supervisor who went home at night and built his first car in the garage. Now, was he in the 99 percent or the one percent? Bill Gates drops out of college to found Microsoft. Is he in the one percent or the 99 percent? Historically, this is the richest country in the history of the world because corporations succeed in creating both profits and jobs, and it's sad that the news media doesn't report accurately how the economy works."
As if the moderators were conspiring on Gingrich's behalf, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo later asked the candidates to explain in 30 seconds what they would replace Obamacare with.
"Well, I just want point out, my colleagues have done a terrific job of answering an absurd question," Gingrich said when it was his turn. "To say in 30 seconds what you would do with 18 percent of the economy, life and death for the American people" highlighted the need for for Lincoln-Douglas style debates that Gingrich has called for.
Of course, the moderators' questions weren't all bad. John Harwood asked Gingrich: "Your firm was paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac in 2006. What did you do for that money?"
"I offer them advice on precisely what they didn't do," Gingrich replied.
"Were you not trying to help Freddie Mac fend off the effort by the Bush administration... to curb Freddie Mac?" Harwood asked.
"No, no," Gingrich replied, adding that he had "never done any lobbying."
"My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, 'We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do,' as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible. It turned out, unfortunately, I was right." Even with the braggadocio, it was a good answer (if true).
Gingrich's latest impressive debate performance comes as he's surging in the polls. A new round of Quinnipiac polls shows Gingrich in third place in Florida (Cain 27, Romney 21, Gingrich 17); Ohio (Cain 25, Romney 20, Gingrich 11); and Pennsylvania (Cain 17, Romney 17, Gingrich 13). Two months ago, Gingrich was stuck in sixth place in national polls. But just last week, Gingrich overtook Perry for third place in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
As Bill Kristol wrote a couple weeks ago, "Gingrich is increasingly well positioned for a serious challenge." If Cain's support collapses like Perry's, it will only be a matter of time before an Iowa, South Carolina, or national poll shows Gingrich in the lead.