I had no intention of blogging the Republican debate last night but I have to say it was the most entertaining debate I’ve seen in a long time. The pitched battle between Rep. Bachmann and Gov. Pawlenty was indeed a highlight. But even better was the actual substantive discussion between Sen. Santorum and Rep. Paul, the kind of thing you almost never see in a debate.
The Big Winner:
Mitt Romney was largely evasive and some of his answers were contradictory. But despite one try by Pawlenty, no one laid a hand on him. He remained largely above the fray, and the longer he can do that, the closer he gets to the nomination.
The Other Winners:
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul gave substantive answers to all questions and displayed an impressive command of history and conservative theory. It would not surprise me to see Paul win the straw poll on Saturday; and Gingrich showed how he became the most powerful Republican in the land. Now if only he had the discipline to run a campaign.
The Big Loser:
Tim Pawlenty attacked and attacked in desperate pleas for attention. He got attention, but the first person to go negative in a large field always loses. If he finishes eighth or ninth on Saturday his campaign may be over.
The Other Losers:
Michele Bachmann was attacked from all sides. She defended herself but showed her weaknesses as well. If I were Romney, I would be rooting for her on Saturday so that she can remain strong enough to draw votes away from Perry. Herman Cain seemed out of his league here and will only stay in the campaign as long as he is willing to bleed money. Jon Huntsman (who, as regular readers know, is the only candidate I think can beat the president) seemed weak and unprepared. Rick Santorum was strong but is a loser because Perry’s entrance to the race eliminates his relevance.