Well, that happened. The Republican presidential primary’s 20th debate is now history, and boy, what a history it was. Four men, all rather stiff, sitting onstage in what looked like a really dull lecture series, moderated by a quite timid teacher, talking about stuff they care deeply about … like earmarks, contraception, and invading Iran. Good times.
So what were TRR’s five big takeaways?
1. Mitt Romney is still the most likely nominee. Nothing that happened in tonight’s debate changed that, despite Mitt’s strange ticks, his testiness when challenged, and that strange clapping thing he does, which makes him look really, really weird. Still, Mitt was the best prepared of the candidates as usual, and unloaded the full trove of opposition research his team dug up on Rick Santorum, down to admitting to the room that he’d just watched a damning for Santo Youtube video served up to him by his staff. As has happened time and again, Romney can stay at around 30 percent in the polls and still win, because whoever becomes the front-runner quickly meets the Romney financial/oppo death star, and collapses under their own weight. Santorum has helped Romney bury him with a slew of strange, religiously zealous statements this week; his Amen chorus from his time in the Senate is as non-existent as former speaker Gingrich’s in the House, and the Romney team came to the party ready to dance … on Santo’s head.
2. Organization beats passion. Rick Santorum’s lack of financial mojo really shows in both his poor staffing (who is letting him say all that crazy stuff about women and contraception?) and in his inability to match what Romney did tonight: pack the room with ringers.
3. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are each serving as Romney’s wing men. Gingrich helped Romney by supporting his securing of earmarks for the Olympic games, and even defending earmarks themselves, as a legislative means of reigning in executive power (a point also made by Ron Paul.) And Paul snapped on Santorum so often, including calling him a “fake,” he also helped boost Romney, by being perhaps the sharpest questioner of Santorum’s Senate record, and the compromises he had to make as a guy representing the blue-ish state of Pennsylvania. The questions on the table at this point are, what has Romney promised Paul — perhaps a spot on the ticket or in a potential cabinet for Rand? And has Newt decided to pack it in and go for a spot as Romney’s running-mate?
4. These guys want to invade Iran. Except Ron Paul. It was rather surreal, watching three Republican candidates for president, in 2012, reverting to George W. Bush’s neocon rhetoric, circa 2003, this time training their military industrial complexes on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The near desperation to get America involved militarily in Iran seems awfully discordant with where the American people, and even most Republicans, are right now, but it was in full display tonight. Missing was the Bushian talk about building democracy. Instead, it was a fear-mongering display that would have made the author of the “axis of evil” speech proud — except that he didn’t seem to much like any of them.
5. Courage. It is a noun, not an adjective, and therefore, for Rick Santorum to make “courage” the one word he’d use to describe himself was hellafide strange. Thinking “conservative” might have been a less bizarre, more appropriate choice, especially since none of the other candidates bit. Also, it was a really stupid question, to which Newt Gingrich had the best, and most appropriately dismissive (not to mention ironic) answer “cheerful.”
Watch and read the key moments from the debate here.