Romney won. Mostly by not losing. He bobbed, weaved, occasionally answered a question, and looked like an adult doing it. But he didn’t do anything to put people at ease, and still hasn’t shown that he can either take a punch or deliver one.
Everyone else looked, well, sort of 2nd tier. Rick Santorum did the politician’s version of an Arnold Horshack impersonation, complaining twice about not getting enough airtime. Bachmann answered a number of tough questions well, but gave back a lot of what she won when she pleaded to be allowed to keep talking past the doorbell. The one thing she did well was deal with Pawlenty. The governor has a perfectly good line of attack and just can’t make it work. It fell to Rick Santorum of all people, to point out that Ron Paul (who all but said, “Come Home, America,” to the cheers of his fans and the boos of everyone else) and Bachmann want to lead the country, but couldn’t even lead their party during the debt ceiling debate. Herman Cain, a smart man, didn’t come across that way tonight. Gingrich came across as the least-canned, most genuine, and thoughtful of the candidates, which at this point, along with $3.58, will get him a grande latte at the flagship Starbucks in Seattle.
So Romney won. And Rick Perry also won.
Make no mistake, the questions were tough, by all the panelists. In fact, someone pointed out that Fox & the Examiner had, in the course of 90 minutes, asked more tough questions of the Republican candidates than the whole MSM has of Barack Obama in the entirety of his candidacy and presidency. Conservatives are bound and determine not to repeat the liberal mistake of softballing their own guys, only to see them fail for lack of vetting once they get into office.
That said, Pat Caddell made a telling point on the Fox News ringside webcast – this was a political class debate, with a political class schedule of topics, wasting way too much time on ancillary topics and ancillary candidates. We got Tim Pawlenty getting into a spitting match with Michelle Bachmann. We got Rick Santorum pointing out the utter idiocy of Ron Paul’s foreign policy, while a former ambassador to China barely got to discuss foreign policy at all. We got an entire segment on gay marriage and abortion.
The country has serious, serious economic, fiscal, and monetary issues, and not only did the moderators wait until the very end to get to jobs, none of the candidates took over the debate and forced the issue. No wonder there’s no passion for any of the candidates who has a chance to win.