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Everyone was sharper this morning than I recall in any of the previous evening debates.

Newt Gingrich had a very good answer at the outset as to why he is the better candidate than Mitt Romney against Barack Obama. But Romney deserves a lot of credit for continually parrying the charges he’s been the target of from each and every other candidate over the course of the year, and the way he’s parried them — with cheer and patience. That cheer and patience matters, too, and while he must be rankled somewhere over the constant and similar slings and arrows, he never shows a whiff of it. There’s something about the poise, and there needs to be a stronger word than “unflappable,” to describe Romney. It would fit him.

Rick Santorum, for his part, raised the question many have asked but have not made enough of. For all of the Romney case for electability, why did he serve as governor from his state for only one term? And Santorum showed, again, how quick he is on his feet by asking Romney why he would run for reelection as president based on his answer about not running for reelection as governor. His take on Ron Paul (“all the things Republicans like about him he can’t accomplish, and all the things that worry us he’ll do on day one”) was too quickly passed over, but very clever and as succinct a public case against Ron Paul as I’ve seen. His answers on other issues, from gay rights to labor unions to Iran, were exceptional. This debate was his.

Rick Perry boasts of his ability to take on Pres. Barack Obama in the debates, and yet, though he’s done better lately, I see no evidence he wouldn’t actually be the worst debater of the bunch against Obama. The best would probably be Gingrich, Santorum, Huntsman, and Romney in that order (not to say debating Obama is the be all and end all, but Perry’s self-boast simply isn’t credible).

Perry and Romney actually suffer the same problem in some respects: They keep talking about how they will run against Obama rather than talking about their policies and positions that contrast with Obama — too much prospective election-process talk and not enough of “the case” or their case against Obama the way Gingrich and Santorum speak, and even Huntsman to a good degree.

Ron Paul: Just to step back a moment; even as he makes some sense on his economic proposals. He is the most confusing thing I’ve seen over the past year in politics — a man who reminds me of nobody so much as the most liberal of the liberal Democrats from the Democratic debates of four years ago: Mike Gravel. He proposes drastic and dramatic cuts to the military, publicly resigned from the Republican party in 1987 blaming Ronald Reagan for our country’s ills, throws around the “chicken hawk” charge, wants to legalize all drugs, opposes the Patriot Act without evidence of abuse, puts America and its enemies on the same moral plane, opposes military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the killing of Bin Laden), all the while saying he should be immune from questions about his record from 20 years ago while he has made a series of headlines for attacking Gingrich about his record from over 40 years ago. He is not simply a 76-year-old crazy uncle, he is, rather, an irresponsible Village Voice/ACLU-type mouthpiece. He does not deserve the respect of the title “Republican.”

— Seth Leibsohn is a senior fellow with the Claremont Institute. Earlier in 2011 he was an adviser to Senator Santorum.



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