The whole debate was set up as a “get-Rick” affair. Gingrich shined and seemed to return to pre-Florida form, and Romney seemed to fall back to the same place despite an audience reportedly stacked in his favor[again.] Santorum was honest about his failings in most respects, and one might even say he was a bit pragmatic. Romney pressed an idiotic argument about earmarks after admitting that while he headed up the Olympics, or serving as Governor, he actually sought them out. It’s an impossibly self-contradictory argument to suggest earmarks are bad while going to the federal government to ask for them, but Romney did worse than that.
When John King asked interrupted Romney to repeat the actual focus of the question, Romney said he would answer as he damned well pleased, though in other words. The question that had been asked was what misconception the candidate would most like to correct. Romney began giving his generic, flowery stump speech, and he received a few boos from the audience in response. The problem is this: Romney could have taken the opportunity to say “Many people think I’m not conservative enough, but that’s not true because…” but he didn’t. Why? Simply, it would admit a negative about him everybody in the room knew all too well: He’s not conservative.
The other problem he had in this debate was the frequency with which he was a yes-man. On a number of issues, he pointed to one or more of his opponents, and said effectively: “What he said.” He would use his time to more or less restate the positions of his opponents with whom he agreed, but he offered very little new or in any way unique in his expressions of general agreement. I kept wondering: “Well, if you agree with these guys, why do we need you?” In this sense, Romney did nothing to differentiate himself from the other two, which is the problem many expect in the general if he gets the nomination. He’s simply too willing to agree, and he has nothing to offer that places his own signature on any issue.
In contrast, Santorum was hammered at every opportunity, by Romney and Paul. Gingrich, who served in Congress, knew full well the truth of Santorum’s argument about what it sometimes takes to get a thing done in Congress, and there are some political realities with which one must contend. You often will not get the things you want, and you may have to swallow some bitter pills to see your priorities enacted. This is why legislative processes are often compared to the making of sausage: It isn’t pretty to watch. Nevertheless, Santorum took the brunt a few times, despite the fact that it was undeserved.
Ron Paul needs to go home. After what I learned earlier in the evening about his betrayals, and how he’s clearly helping Mitt Romney, it’s time for Paul to go home. He won’t, but he should. He played Romney’s attack dog on Santorum throughout the debate, and it was so obvious that I waited for him to break out a Romney campaign pin. It was shameful. I’m surprised Santorum held his cool so well as he did.
Romney lost the debate, whether the voters watching from home noticed or not, and it was sickening to see him rely on Paul for the Santorum double-team. His unwillingness to engage with his own answers, or offer anything unique to them should give you a sense of what sort of miserable President he would make, and when he had an opportunity to correct misconceptions about him, rather than exploiting it, he gave a stump speech. You think this guy can beat Obama?