Presidential candidate Mitt Romney became the target of most of the criticism in Sunday morning’s debate on NBC's “Meet the Press.”
After Saturday night's debate in New Hampshire, pundits wondered why no one was attacking the front-runner. The other candidates remedied that situation less than 12 hours later as they took on the former Massachusetts governor with gusto.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich argued that a candidate with an economic plan that creates a clear contrast with President Barack Obama would have a better chance of winning the election, and Romney's economic plan is too much like Obama's.
“A bold Reagan conservative with a very strong economic plan is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign than a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich argued.
Romney said he stands by his conservative record and noted that conservatives in the party “without an ax to grind” are backing his campaign, such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“If his record was so great as governor of Massachusetts, why didn't he run for re-election? ... Why did you bail out?” former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum asked.
Santorum also argued that he ran in a largely Democratic district but, unlike Romney, he won while standing up for conservative principles.
Romney countered that he did not run for re-election because it was never his goal to be a lifetime politician.
“For me, politics is not a career. For me, my career was being in business and running a business and making it successful. My life's passion has been my family, my faith and my country.”
“Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney,” Gingrich responded. “The fact is, you ran in '94 and lost. That's why you were not serving in the Senate with Rick Santorum.
“The fact is, you had a very bad re-election rate. ... You didn't have this interlude of citizenship while you thought about what to do. You were running for president while you were governor. ... So this idea that suddenly citizenship showed up in your mind, just level with the American people, you've been running at least since the 1990s.”
Romney said that citizenship has always been on his mind, and he took some advice from his dad, “never get involved in politics if you have to win election to pay a mortgage.”
He also said that he knew he would lose his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy, and told his business partners he would be back in six months.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman took Romney to task for criticizing his service as ambassador to China under President Obama.
“He criticized me while he was out raising money, for serving my country in China. Yes, under a Democrat. Like my two sons are doing in the United States navy. They're not asking what political affiliation it is. ... I will always put my country first.”
Romney responded, “the best person to represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador to China.”
“This nation is divided,” Huntsman countered, “because of attitudes like that.”
The crowd responded approvingly to Huntsman with loud cheers.
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Romney leads that race with 35 percent support, according to a recent Suffolk University poll conducted on Friday and Saturday, before both weekend debates. The nearest challenger is Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 20 percent.