The big winner tonight was Mitt Romney for one simple reason: No one laid a finger on him. Romney repeatedly turned his fire on Obama while all the non-Romneys fought with each other. Paul called Gingrich a draft dodger. Perry called Paul a hypocrite. Paul called Santorum a big-government conservative. And Romney just stood back and watched it all. Whenever the moderators asked him to join the fray he demurred and turned the discussion toward Obama.
He even went after the moderators for asking a “silly question” and when asked to criticize his rivals said everyone on the stage would do better than Obama. The irony is that that was Gingrich’s role in the debates a few months ago — now Romney has appropriated it.
Santorum was a winner tonight as well. He took a lot of fire and handled his job as the latest debate piñata well — and laid a few punches of his own. (The best of which was when he said to Ron Paul “If we followed your policies, we would not have a Navy to rescue those Iranian soldiers.”) Unlike others who came before him, he did not lose ground in his first debate as the leading anti-Romney candidate.
Perry had a great debate too. He’s gotten better and better each time. But I think people have made their decisions on him this time around. He was mocked for it, but he made an important point about Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq when he said that every life lost will be for nothing because Obama wants to appease his liberal base. Obama has handed Iraq over to Iran, even if they are not moving in “literally” at light speed. They are moving in pretty fast. We should not have withdrawn all our troops and the next president will need to find a way to mitigate the damage. Imagine what the Korean peninsula would look like today if we had withdrawn every single American soldier right after the end of hostilities in the Korean War.
But the bottom line is that no matter how well the others did, Romney is in the lead and pulling away — so if he came away from the debate unscathed, he won.