The night provided serious fireworks on marriage and media, tax returns, and health care, but the former speaker maintained his momentum.
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- When CNN's John King uncorked the open-marriage question on Newt Gingrich in the very first exchange of Thursday's debate, and Gingrich responded with a scorching display of righteous contempt, it seemed the debate's big news had transpired within the first five minutes. But the two hours that followed were almost equally remarkable -- full of tough, substantive exchanges, sharp elbows, and memorable lines.
GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.(APPLAUSE)By the end of Gingrich's diatribe -- delivered in full umbrage, eyebrows knitted, finger jabbing -- not only were those in the debate hall standing and cheering, people watching at home probably were too. He could not have asked for a better occasion to rebut the issue. By waxing emotional even as he lectured the media, Gingrich got the public on his side for the most potentially damaging hurdle between him and Saturday's primary.
KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?
GINGRICH: Let me finish.
GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine. (APPLAUSE)
My two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate. (APPLAUSE)
KING: As you noted, Mr. Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I'm not -- I get your point. I take your point.
GINGRICH: John -- John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it. (APPLAUSE)
Let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor. They're attacking me. I'm sure they'll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul.
I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.
I mean, Newt's a friend. I love him. But at times, you've just got, you know, sort of that, you know, worrisome moment that something's going to pop. And we can't afford that in a nominee. We need someone -- I'm not the most flamboyant, and I don't get the biggest applause lines here. But I'm steady. I'm solid. I'm not going to go out and do things that you're going to worry about. I'm going to be out there. I'm going to make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign.