With conservatives finally moving in his direction, Mitt Romney picked Monday night to turn in a terrible performance. If somebody told him he just had to stand there and not make a gaffe, they were wrong.
Romney got a little better as the evening wore on. He’s got to work on having not just an adequate but a stirring defense of his career at Bain Capital. He should have known that he was going to be asked if he’d release his income-tax returns. He was ill at ease. He should have been prepared.
Newt Gingrich, by contrast, was on fire. A viewer who (unlike this one) could overlook his disgraceful recent behavior might have been moved to cheer. Gingrich repeatedly stated the conservative position better than anybody on the stage.
When panelist Juan Williams asked Gingrich something silly about whether his plan to put poor kids to work as janitors (gasp!) is condescending to minorities, Gingrich magisterially sighed: “No.” Only elites look down on earning money, Gingrich said. He made Juan look snobbish.
Even the irrelevant but likeable Rick Perry turned in a better performance than Romney. Perry’s best moment came when Williams asked him about the Obama administration’s war on voter-ID requirements. Perry came out swinging and it was good.
Ron Paul was fine until the discussion moved to foreign policy and he went nutsy. We should have phoned Pakistan before going after Bin Laden? Oh, and what’s wrong with capturing him and having a trial?
Rick Santorum, who had good moments and clearly reveled in being invisible no longer, should be ashamed of himself for pandering in his attack on Mitt Romney’s position that felons should not be allowed to vote. “Do you mean to tell me on Martin Luther King Day . . . ” C’mon, Rick.
Romney has time to prepare to debate Barack Obama. The general-election viewers won’t want as much fire as the South Carolina Republicans. That will be to his advantage. But he does need to get used to being under attack. He also needs to drop the smile. Nothing wrong in looking serious in serious times.