Santorum won the debate running away last night, though Ron Paul came across as more avuncular than crotchety, for a change. Romney held his own, and Newt looked deflated and came across as comparatively emotionally flat. Stacy posted his impressions from the debate at American Spectator, and kept up a trenchant running commentary as it unfolded, but I’m going to say that John Podhoretz’ piece for the New York Post most closely matches my perception.
Last night, Santorum put on a genuinely dazzling debate performance, in which he confidently attacked Romney, went after CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Newt-style for his failure to stick to issues, talked movingly about his wife and her accomplishments, spoke in a tough smart way about foreign policy, and concluded with a very strong peroration about the relation between faith and politics.
The upshot of Santorum’s break-through performance, according to most of the pundits, is that Romney wins Florida and possibly secures the nomination, since the upcoming primaries are all in states where Romney enjoys a significant advantage in the polls. And some of the savvier pundits have noted that the position jockeying among states for earlier primaries—particularly Florida’s—was designed to create exactly this result for Mr. Inevitable.
Stacy decried Florida’s move, which concatenated in ways that turned the holidays into non-holidays for the campaign press, and which will have repercussions in 2016 and beyond. The deck-stacking has also angered a lot of conservatives who would have liked to have had some say in the winnowing out of candidates. The argument that there is no Republican Establishment certainly becomes more difficult to defend in light of the manipulation of the system in Romney’s benefit. The apparatchiks flipped the bird at the grassroots by intervening the way they did, particularly because some of us doubt very seriously that Romney has the stomach to try to repeal ObamaCare.
In fact, in the most bewildering moment of last night’s debate and possibly of all of them, Romney responded to Santorum’s criticism of the individual mandate and how RomneyCare has turned out in Massachusetts by telling him that it was not worth getting angry about, and also Salt Lake City Olympics. It’s hard to understand how that cavalier attitude towards one of the biggest conservative issues in this campaign—probably the biggest issue for a lot of voters—is going to endear Romney to the base whom he so far has not understood the need to woo.
I’m not going to criticize anyone who has backed Romney, or argued the ‘only one who can defeat Barack’ line about him or any other candidate. A lot of smart people whom I admire have gotten caught up in the rancor of this campaign in blogs and social media, and a lot of passionate people have said a lot of regrettable things to folks whom they will want to have on their side once the nomination is settled. I find it upsetting that people who share so many values can be at one another’s throats over the very subjective matter of who best embodies or will most effectively represent them.
What I can say is that We The People deserve a much stronger voice in how primaries are managed, and whether that means continuously re-shuffling the order of the primaries or some other solution needs to be debated. There’s a great overlap between conservatism and traditionalism, without doubt, but that doesn’t mean that we need to be hidebound when the system is so thoroughly and evidently gamed. To say that Iowa or New Hampshire or any other state doesn’t represent America well is ridiculous—as well, usually, as elitist and/or chauvinistic—but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look to reform the system when so many feel badly served by it as it stands. When the likes of John McCain and Bob Dole try to influence the outcome, some of us feel disgust, because . . . for God’s sake, we’ve given you your shot! but now you want to tell us who best deserves this one?
Maybe the pundits who say that Romney will wrap this thing up on Tuesday are right, and maybe those who say that Florida marks another grim milestone on the way to a brokered convention are right. I don’t know. I’m just not that prescient. What I do know is that Santorum had a very good night and that he has shown a great deal of moxie hanging in the race the way that he has, and that what he says resonates because it is engraved on the tablet of his heart, and that win or lose, he should be regarded as a powerful voice in the conservative movement. He also fixed that body language problem that I’d complained of before.
Those who idolize their own judgments will never be wrong, because their reasoning is never falsifiable. If Romney wins, and refuses to overturn ObamaCare, Ann Coulter still and always will have been correct in her assessment. Personally, I would like to see this drag out so that we can at least extract promises for which there will be costs to pay if not kept, and because I want to see the nominee kiss the TEA Party’s arse. They have kept the faith, provided the resistance to the socialist takeover, and deserve a place at the table. When the party’s candidate can’t reciprocate, it shows that he’s internalized the left’s characterization of the TEA Party as extreme, whereas Obama is moderate, reasonable, bipartisan, willing to compromise and to bend to the will of The People.