No one touched Romney. He was unflappable and knowledgeable. He again showed the right political instinct to want to address the struggles of the middle class, although his tax plan doesn’t do it. His China-bashing will probably play well in the Midwest, although it’s foolhardy on the merits. He consistently got applause. I remember one of the early debates when Romney was flying above the other candidates and Pawlenty — I think — attacked him and he declined to reply, saying “that’s fine.” He said the same thing tonight when Santorum went after him. After all the churning in the race, Romney is in the same basically comfortable place he was in several months ago.
Gingrich was on his game from the beginning when he let loose a ringing anti-Bernanke, anti-food stamps, anti-Alinsky answer. This was the Newt everyone thought we’d see before he got in the race. I thought he was much too irritable with the moderators, but a GOP audience probably doesn’t mind and Maria Bartiromo matched him unpleasantness for unpleasantness. The narrative about his rise will continue.
Cain was fun as always. He got off a couple of great lines and was helped by the ill-advised decision of the moderators to press him about the sexual harassment accusations in his forum. His frequent resort to 9-9-9 still gets laughs, although eventually the charm of this trope will wear thin. On substance, he clearly lacks the fluidity of a Romney or the depth of a Gingrich.
I thought Perry would get better after his first debate. I was wrong. I thought he couldn’t do worse than his last few debate performances. I was wrong. His blank moment on the three cabinet agencies was very uncomfortable to watch. It could happen to any of us, but having it happen to him, on this stage, was devastating. Perry passed on a couple of chances to hit Romney, so clearly his hope was to just skate through this debate, and he couldn’t manage it. It’s a shame for him, but will presumably help Gingrich and Cain.
To his credit, Santorum continued to be the only Republican willing to acknowledge and address the economic travails of people without a college degree. But he’s not as compelling as the other candidates, and there’s always one unfortunate moment in every debate where he feels he has to brag, in rapid-fire fashion, about all the wonderful things he’s done. Bachmann was basically a non-factor. Notably, she persists in arguing that people who aren’t paying federal income taxes aren’t participating fully in American life — it’s the reverse side of Elizabeth Warrenism. Huntsman was annoying. I find myself increasingly charmed by old Ron Paul.