The GOP Rests

Just because we didn’t live-blog doesn’t mean we didn’twatch the debate. For what it’s worth, we’re adding our belated thoughts to the cacophony of instant reaction . The executive summary: Nobody screwed up, only Romney helped himself.

John McCain : Whendid John McCain become slightly senile? His prolonged spat with Mitt Romneyabout Mitt’s non-support of an Iraqtimetable made McCain look like a desperate slanderer. Considering he’s theundisputed frontrunner, McCain’s whole strategy was nuts. As my Trailheadcolleague Mr. Beam pointed out, he’s the senile grandfather you let prattle onbecause its too sad to tell him to shut up. Another McCain highlight of thenight was watching him go out of his way to send some love to California Gov. ArnoldSchwarzenegger. Word leaked that Ahnold is endorsingJohnny Mac tomorrow , so there was no chance McCain was going to disagreewith him on fuel-efficiencyfederalism . If Anderson Cooper had some stones, he would have asked McCainwhether the Governator was going to endorse him.  

Mitt Romney : Mittwas sharper than a Mormon steeple tonight. He offered something for all threeReagan-coalition constituencies. The social conservatives got a gay-marriageban shout-out (an issue that has disappeared from this cycle). The nationalsecurity conservatives saw Romney mount an effective rebuttal to McCain’sbaseless withdrawal claims. In case fiscal conservatives didn’t already knowit, Romney knows what’s up when it comes to the economy. When McCain attacked Romney’s record in Massachusetts, Romneyyanked stats out of his brain that only an economic cyborg can remember. WithReagan’s Air Force One as your backdrop, pandering to the Reagan coalition is agood idea—no matter how tacky that plane looked.

Mike Huckabee :This was an ugly debate for the Huckster. What makes Huck such an effectivedebater is his ability to use his quips as a gateway into important policypoints. Tonight Huck didn’t do that. His best Huckism was a long-winded statabout sitting in traffic that didn’t fully connect to his policy point: thatfixing the nation’s infrastructure would stimulate the economy. Plus, he pulledit off better at a fundraiserearlier in the day . When Romney and McCain started bickering about Iraq timetables,Huckabee might as well have been wearing a cloak of invisibility . When heactually spoke, Huckabee complained about not getting a chance to speak—alwaysa faux pas.  

Ron Paul : PoorPaul. Cooper gave Dr.No the silent treatment all night. At one point Cooper cut Paul off while hewas trying to answer two questions in one. Cooper promised Paul would getanother chance to speak ” coming up in like twominutes or two questions. ” To be fair, Cooper honored his word, but thencut him off again later in the evening. At one point Paul recoiled from beingcut off, arched an eyebrow, and cocked his head a bit as he stopped himselffrom staring Cooper down. On a related note, I don’t remember the last timePaul was off-message at a debate. Sure, he’s been reduced to a sideshow (fairlyor not), but at least it’s a consistent one.