The Campaign Spot

Mitt Romney’s Prevent Defense

In the first Morning Jolt of the week of the New Hampshire primary . . .

My Baloney Has a First Name, It’s P-I-O-U-S . . .

Saturday night’s Contraception Debate was a bore and an astonishing waste of time. I spent Sunday morning with my boys, so I missed what happened when everybody not named Mitt Romney remembered that they forgot to go after Mitt Romney Saturday Night. It began:

In the debate, sponsored by “Meet the Press” and Facebook, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, disputed Mr. Romney’s assertions that he was not a lifetime politician, saying, “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?”

“You have been running consistently for years and years and years,” Mr. Gingrich said, looking directly at his rival. He added: “Just level with the American people. You’ve been running for — at least since the 1990s.”

Mr. Gingrich also attacked Mr. Romney’s tenure at the investment firm Bain, accusing him of pillaging companies and cutting jobs to enrich himself and his colleagues. He compared him unfavorably with two other presidential candidates from Massachusetts: former Gov. Michael Dukakis and Senator John Kerry, both Democrats who were defeated.

Ben Smith has Newt’s full jab: “You had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president. You didn’t have this interlude of . . . citizenship while you thought about what to do. You were running for president while you were governor. You were gone all over the country. You were — you were out of state consistently. You then promptly reentered politics. You happened to lose to McCain as you had lost to Kennedy.”

Doug Mataconis reacted, “Some of post-debate spin is asserting that this debate could hurt Romney in the final hours of the New Hampshire campaign, but that seems pretty unlikely given the size of Romney’s lead in the Granite State. If there is an impact, it’s likely to be one that helps Jon Huntsman a little bit, although probably not enough to give him an argument for going forward. It’s possible that the debate will have some impact on the race in South Carolina, which is where all of this is really heading, the problem for the ‘Not Romney’ crowd, though, is that it’s likely to help Romney more than it hurts him. The reason for that is that, paradoxically, this debate and the previous one were relatively good for all of the ‘Not Romney’s,’ especially including Rick Perry, and as long as the anti-Romney vote in South Carolina is divided, Romney benefits.”

Phil Klein, among those least inclined to applaud a Romney nomination from the start, laments, “over the past several months, rivals hardly laid a glove on Romney. Perry had one disastrous debate performance after another and dropped like a rock in the polls. After a succession of candidates rose and fell, eventually Rick Santorum emerged as the leading conservative alternative to Romney. And Huntsman, boring and obnoxious in debates, never took off in New Hampshire. So what we’re left with is a situation in which Romney is so far ahead in his quest for the GOP nomination, that barring a major catastrophe, he’s unlikely to lose. In football terms, he’s in the prevent defense — able to surrender lots of yardage to his opponents in the middle of the field and still win as long as he doesn’t turn over the ball . . . Romney’s rivals may have scored some points today. But given that Romney is several touchdowns ahead late in the fourth quarter, it’s unlikely that it will alter the outcome of the game.”

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