My Thoughts On Last Night's Debate. What're Yours?
Three months ago, I was convinced the Republican nominee wouldn't be Mitt Romney. Two months ago, I was convinced that it couldn't be anybody but Romney.
I know nothing.
That said, a few thoughts:
Item: Going into the debate, all the polls showed Newt ahead in Iowa by double digits. That meant the debate amounted (to borrow Tim Groseclose's wonderful metaphor) to a NASCAR race. Anybody could argue about whether a certain candidate handled this or that line of argument better or worse than other candidates, but there were really only two questions that mattered:
Would Newt do anything so dramatic that it would cost him first place? Would he spin out? Would he slam into a barrier?
Would Mitt do anything dramatic enough to break away from the pack of candidates in the rear, overtaking Newt?
Newt didn't spin out and Mitt didn't overtake him. On that analysis alone, the debate belonged to Newt.
Item: The debate might--might--have done subtle but serious damage to Romney.
Mitt used to be seen as the inevitable nominee. Now he's trailing Newt by double digits in three of the first four primary states, namely, Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida.
Mitt used to be seen as the only Republican who could beat Obama. Now polls have shown that Newt could beat Obama.
Mitt used to be seen as cool, disciplined and utterly unflappable. Now? Well, he had some very rough moments last night. He permitted himself to become visibly annoyed by Rick Perry. He talked at much too much length about his continued devotion to RomneyCare, permitting himself to be placed on the defensive for minutes at a time. And he took a couple of swings at Newt that were simply undisciplined. Attack Newt for saying schoolchildren might one day perform science projects on the moon? Giving Newt the chance to reply with a passionate, compelling defense of the space program? Really? This could hardly have astonished me more, but Mitt looked less disciplined than Newt, not more so. (I hasten to admit that this is a purely subjective impression, reminding you that, as I have said, I know nothing, and I invite FrozenChosen and BThompson and anyone else among the Ricochetoise to disagree just as full-throatedly as they'd like.)
Maybe Mitt's support is firm--if his ceiling is 26 percent, maybe his floor is 24 percent. Maybe. But if his poll numbers now started to dwindle--in particular, if his lead in New Hampshire began to sink from the low double digits to, say, the middle single digits--I wouldn't be terribly surprised.
Item: That said, Mitt had some wonderful moments. In a couple of answers, he attacked Barack Obama, displaying more cogency and passion than ever before--something I doubt he ever would have done if he hadn't found himself in his present struggle with Newt. If Mitt does somehow manage to turn this campaign around--and, Lord knows, anything is still possible--he'll have Newt to thank for making him a tougher, more conservative, and more impassioned candidate.
Item: Which leads to one of the best lines of the evening. During our live blog, Ricochet member Pseudodionysius wrote this:
Mitt would make a great president if Newt would go into his office every three hours and holler at him.
Come to think of it, I take it back. I do know something. Pseudo's a genius.
Those, as I say, are my thoughts.