Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have planned to put in a less-than-stellar performance at Monday night’s South Carolina debate to split his conservative opposition, but if that was the case, the plan backfired horribly, according to respected pollster and debate expert Matt Towery.
Towery, who served as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s first debate coach, tells Newsmax that Romney may have wanted to help prop up former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to diminish Gingrich’s momentum heading into Thursday’s final South Carolina debate — just two days before the Palmetto State’s do-or-die primary on Saturday.
“I think he wanted to low key it — let Santorum and Perry sort of shine, dodge any tough questions and then move on to the next debate where he could really shine,” according to Towery, chief pollster of InsiderAdvantage. “The problem is he didn’t plan on having a horrible debate.”
Towery said that Romney gave his opponents the one gift they probably never expected with respect to questions over his income tax returns.
“He started stammering and stuttering and gasping for words and gasping for air,” Towery explained.
When pressed to disclose his income tax return, Romney appeared to say that he would consider doing so in April — but did not commit to any time frame. “I’m not opposed to doing that, time will tell, but I anticipate that, most likely, I’m going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I’ll keep that open,” he said during the debate.
That was a bad answer, according to Towery.
“The theater fell apart on him because he pushed it to April and that caused everybody to wonder ‘what was he hiding,’ ” explained Towery, who also pointed out that Romney usually puts his hands in his pockets to display confidence during debates.
“He didn’t do that last night and I think he was told to do that,” Towery said.
Voters who are put off by a candidate’s debate performance typically don’t immediately switch their allegiance to another candidate. In such cases, they show up in polls as undecided.
“If any of the polls show the undecided going up, we’ll know it had an effect,” predicted Towery.
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