Manchester, NH—Ron Paul reaffirmed his view that Newt Gingrich is a chickenhawk.
Rick Santorum called Ron Paul a liar.
Jon Huntsman explained to his fellow contenders that his marriage was not threatened by civil unions.
Gingrich said Barack Obama was “sincere” in his determination to create “a radical European socialist model” of governance.
Rick Perry proposed reinvading Iraq. Seriously.
Perry said that if he wasn’t debating, he’d be at the shooting range. Most of the rest of the candidates said they would be watching football—except for Paul, who said he’d be reading an economics text. Seriously.
Then the six men who would be president sent the better part of Saturday night’s pre–New Hampshire primary debate arguing about contraception.
What was supposed to be definitional debate was dragged in so many strange directions by distracted candidates and disengaged moderators that the ABC News/WMUR-TV debate turned into one of the more unfocused and ultimately uninspiring debates of the campaign season. So it should come as no surprise that the winner was the uninspired—and not particularly popular—candidate who was supposed to take all the hits but instead finished unscathed, Mitt Romney.
“It was almost as if [the other candidates] were not aware that Mitt Romney is the front-runner,” observed ABC’s Jake Tapper, in what may well be the understatement of the night.
By Monday morning, trackling polls suggested that Romney was still almost 20 points ahead of his cloest rival, Paul, with Gingrich and Santorum struggling for third. And former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer — "Catch the Roementum! — pulling ahead of Perry.
Gingrich, well aware that his debate performances were in sufficient, shifted into harshest attack mode Monday, accusing Romney of "looting" American companies when the millionaire businessman headed Bain Capital. There were reports that a Gingrich-aligned Super PAC would spend as much as $3.4 million to deliver the "Romney’s a looter" message in South Carolina before that state’s January 21 primary.
That’s a hard hit — much harder than any Gingrich of the other contenders delivered at the Saturday and Sunday debate.
Instead of taking Romney down a few pegs on the eve of a primary that all the polls suggest the narrow winner of last Tuesday Iowa caucuses is likely to win with ease, the other candidates pretty much gave the best-financed and best-organized contender a pass. Indeed, even when his competitors tried to damage Romney, it was with ineffectual jibes—like Santorum’s suggestion that the former governor and organizer of the Olympics is too much of a manager.