Newt, Marianne, Mitt, and Tonight’s GOP Debate

Newt Gingrich

Might a strong Newt Gingrich debate performance tonight trump the ABC Nightline interview with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne?

Remember, the debate comes before Nightline . And the roughly five million to six million people who watch the debate will be a lot more than the roughly two million folks who turn on Nightline. Plus, the Nightline crowd is largely liberal, and these viewers are not going to favor Newt Gingrich.

I’m not saying the ABC Brian Ross interview with Marianne isn’t something. But I’m not sure how important it really is.

Here’s what’s more important: Newt has opportunities in the debate tonight to push his Reagan 2.0 supply-side tax-reform plan. If he stays on message about growth, jobs, and prosperity, he can point to Mitt Romney’s more timid tax-reform plan.

Plus, Newt needs to explain how the numbers work both for his 15 percent flat tax and his plan for Social Security personal accounts. Growth is great, but we also have this problem called the budget deficit. Newt needs to explain.

Mitt Romneyhas opportunities tonight also. He needs to announce an early release of his tax returns. He also should explain that his investment income, which is taxed at a 15 percent effective rate, is also taxed at the corporate level. So in fact, Mitt is paying a combined 45 percent tax rate on his income.

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And while he’s at it, Mitt should unveil (unleash?) his own bolder tax-reform plan. Most people agree that Mitt has the business experience and the better understanding of how the economy works. But he needs a bolder solution. Tonight could be the night.

And while he’s at it, Mitt should give a more detailed defense of both the successes and failures of Bain Capital. Details matter. And perhaps he can aggressively tell folks how a Bain-turnaround approach is exactly what’s needed for that troubled and near-bankrupt company, U.S. Government, Inc.

Finally, both Newt and Mitt should take on the cronyism in Washington. They should describe how they would end corporate welfare; how they would remove the costly and unnecessary deductions, exemptions, and carve outs in the tax code; and how they would get rid of all the government subsidies to big business for energy, exports, and agriculture (and ethanol). Changing Washington’s culture of cronyism is a key path to tax reform, deep spending cuts, and deficit reduction -- along with growth.

In other words, in a dead-heat race in South Carolina, both Newt and Mitt have big opportunities in tonight’s debate.

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