Not a Bad Night for Leading Men

by Hunter Baker

Rick Santorum was probably the winner of the debate. He didn’t prevail because he had any great lines or any particularly memorable confrontations, but because this was his chance at center stage, and he looked knowledgeable and comfortable. He left a good impression. If some people were on the look-out for an extremist, they didn’t see that in Santorum.

Mitt Romney also benefited from the debate. He was friendly in his bewilderment at George Stephanopoulos’ grilling him over whether states have the right to ban contraception. “Does anybody want to do that?” Indeed. Voters can’t avoid the sense that he is a very solid and safe pick.

Ron Paul has an annoying habit of saying things he thinks liberal moderators want to hear. He didn’t make friends with Republicans using the arguments of the Left on disproportionate racial impact of the drug war or on the death penalty. He also reached for an expansive interpretation of the Fourth amendment. So, he likes an expansive Fourth amendment (expansive enough to support Roe, apparently), but not an expansive interstate-commerce clause?

Newt Gingrich was excellent, throughout, except for his answer to the silly question about how he’d spend his Saturday night where he seemed not to know what sport he’d be watching. His cutting remark about Obama’s good intentions in his radical attempt to implement radical European socialism in America was the best bit of the whole debate. A nice, tension-clearing laugh on that one.

Jon Huntsman isn’t taking advantage of his opportunities. He comes off as too eager to demonstrate his brilliance and superiority. Speaking Chinese was a classic example of that. He shines in longer-form interaction, such as the Lincoln-Douglas debate he had with Gingrich, but there is nothing soundbite-friendly about him. Still, he’s the only person who hasn’t had a turn in the spotlight and New Hampshire could give it to him.

Rick Perry showed perseverance and toughness in deciding to stay in, but debates are just not his format. I expected him to make more of questions on his military service, but he seemed eager to pivot, at one point even going back to the interminable questions on gay marriage and adoption when the subject had been left behind.

— Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism and an associate professor of political science at Union University.

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