Jess, the thing about last night’s debate is that for the journalists who follow the circus, as opposed to the policy, there just wasn’t anything new to say. Herman Cain ranted. Rick Perry coasted. Mitt Romney dominated. Huntsman, Paul, Santorum: present, every one of them. I agree with you—Michelle Bachman continued her slow slide into irrelevancy. By the end, she all but started singing the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” I’m glad there was a little diversity at the table, but that’s really not saying much.
The one thing that struck me (other than Mitt Romney’s surprising ability to espouse liberal views in Republican terms, as William Saletan pointed out—shh, Will, you’re going to blow it for him), was the startlingly conciliatory stance of Newt Gingrich. This was a man who is running hard—for vice president. Anyone’s vice president. Again and again, he reached around the table, praising, schmoozing, uniting. He pounced a few times (calling Romney out on one of those liberal positions, his limited capital gains tax cut) but for the most part, he seemed to be reveling in a weird elder statesman role.
I took pleasure in the moderators. Both Karen Tumulty and Juliana Goldman asked the tougher substantive questions and, in Goldman’s case especially, pushed back when the candidates didn’t answer (although never often enough). My favorite moment was when Charlie Rose essentially brought in Ronald Reagan to ask a key question:
The single most important question facing us tonight is, do we reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share? Or do we accept a bigger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment simply because we disagree on certain features of a legislative package which offers hope for millions of Americans at home, on the farm, and in the workplace?
I thought bringing in Reagan to ask the question was brilliant. I only wish someone had really answered it.