The moment everyone is talking about:
Romney seems like the only serious candidate on the stage. In a sense that's not surprising because he's almost the only serious candidate in the race. Santorum struck me as particularly scattered. The key though is Pawlenty. He's the only other really serious candidate in the race, at least on paper. But he struck me as weak — and not just in his unwillingness to repeat his criticism of Romney to Romney's face. And that's a win for Romney, since again, no one else up there is a serious candidate for the nomination. And yet Romney's answer on health care reform simply didn't hold up — a lot of sensible points that didn't at all address the fact that his bill is fundamentally the same as President Obama's. That's still the albatross around his neck. But what if there's no other credible candidate to oppose him?
Pawlenty failed to break out, again. Even his hockey reference was less of an easy applause line than Romney's. Bachmann, who's always underrated, was as poised and quick as she's ever been. Herman Cain suffered from the presence of buzzy candidates and from a lack of new things to say. Gingrich didn't live up to his promise as the guy with the out-of-the-box ideas everyone else has to ponder. And Romney won.
Overall, I thought Bachmann and Santorum most improved on their pre-debate standing. Herman Cain, reputed to be a fiery orator, was a disappointment. Gingrich and Paul remain amusing un-electable cranks. Pawlenty is still boring. Romney is clearly still winning.
I think Romney has come across well. He knows how to handle himself, the format makes it tough to go after rivals, and the candidates clearly prefer to hammer Obama rather than each other. Is that good strategy? Maybe staying positive is best in the short term, but eventually the leader will have to be taken down a peg.
The mitts were off Mitt. Romney received a pass from a strikingly timid field of rivals in Monday night's debate. … There's a rule of thumb in political debates: When a front-runner leaves the stage unscathed, he's still the front-runner. And, thus, regardless of the sound and fury of the debate itself, he wins.
Here’s T-Paw’s problem. He’s not charismatic, so he has to be the guy with the specifics. Can you name one of his tonight?
In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether it was because [Pawlenty] was too nice or not courageous enough to call out Romney to his face. Either way he failed. It was a key moment in this race and one that Pawlenty will rue in the months to come. He walks away from the debate clearly weakened by this astonishing failure of either nerve or imagination. Instead of winning the competition between the two mainstream candidates, Pawlenty is now in danger of slipping back into the second tier.
During the 2008 campaign, one of the biggest problems Romney had was that he built up resentment among his rivals by not only reversing himself on a host of issues, but then attacking all his opponents for being insufficiently conservative on the issues he had just converted on. This came back to haunt him down the stretch, particularly as Mike Huckabee and John McCain effectively teamed up against Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire. But tonight, Romney was affable, and complimentary to all of his rivals, and specifically to Pawlenty. This had a disarming effect, and it also allowed him to concentrate his fire on the real opponent, President Obama.
Boy, did [Pawlenty] look weak, especially when he refused to defend his "Obamneycare" line. There's going to be a wimp narrative, and Republicans like their men manly.