Observer consensus: Romney wins debate

| January 8 2012
Christopher Cook

In scanning conservative new media this morning, the consensus appears to be fairly clear. There are differing opinions on who came in second and how the others did generally, but a lot of the opinions in the conservative punditocracy appear to agree that Romney came out on top.

Here are a few of the comments we have seen that reinforce this trend of opinion.

Marc Theissen:

The big winner tonight was Mitt Romney for one simple reason: No one laid a finger on him. Romney repeatedly turned his fire on Obama while all the non-Romneys fought with each other. Paul called Gingrich a draft dodger. Perry called Paul a hypocrite. Paul called Santorum a big-government conservative. And Romney just stood back and watched it all. Whenever the moderators asked him to join the fray he demurred and turned the discussion toward Obama.

He even went after the moderators for asking a “silly question” and when asked to criticize his rivals said everyone on the stage would do better than Obama. The irony is that that was Gingrich’s role in the debates a few months ago — now Romney has appropriated it.

Michael Barone:

Romney’s performance throughout showed discipline, preparation and also the ability to adapt to circumstances in a way that was superior to that of any other candidate. The only exception was his astonished reaction to George Stephanopoulos’s attempt to get the candidates to join Rick Santorum’s urge to relitigate the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case which, on ridiculously spurious constitutional grounds, overturned that state’s unenforced law (Massachusetts still had a similar one on the books) purporting to ban the sale of contraceptives. [ . . . ]

Bottom line: Romney advanced his standing. Santorum, Gingrich, Paul and Huntsman probably didn’t. Perry kept himself in the race for South Carolina, where if none of those four guys exceed expectations (Huntsman’s metric) in New Hampshire he might turn out to be Romney’s most vocal if not most widely supported opponent.

Rich Lowry seems bored by Romney’s win, but still appears to acknowledge it:

Mitt Romney was solid throughout and even deft and sly on the interminable contraception question. He answers every question like he thinks he’s going to be president.  There have been more than a dozen debates and you might be able to count his answers that have been affirmatively bad on one hand. Doesn’t mean that they have all been inspiring, believable, or deep, but they are almost always technically proficient.

Hugh Hewitt, who is a team player but has also shown strong positive sentiment to Romney, agrees:

If you had to pick a nominee to face President Obama solely on the basis of tonight’s debate –a nd not just the president but the combined forces of the MSM supporting him, like ABC’s moderators — it would surely be Romney, which tells you who won, and decisively.

None of the candidates except Paul had a bad night, and Rick Santorum solidified his clear status as the alternative to Romney, but the much-anticipated Newt attacks on Romney barely materialized and indeed there isn’t even a memorable anti-Mitt line from the entire affair, unless it was in Chinese and hasn’t been translated yet. The former Massachusetts governor was poised, funny, informed, and demonstrated again and again the key media skill that will be needed between now and November: The ability to turn the MSM’s questions back against Obama, to call absurd questions on their face, and to constantly elevate the immediate inquiry to the higher question of the country’s direction.

Needless to say, one can find a few opposing opinions as well. In at least some of those cases, though, that starting point for the opinion seems to be that Romney is not sufficiently conservative, therefore he did not win the debate. Those two things do not correlate, however.

Romney may not be the second coming of Ronald Reagan, but he would make a decent candidate to go up against Barack Obama. And with the polls showing him doing well in upcoming states, and with his solid debate performances, he has a strong shot at the nomination. Conservatives and Republicans might do well to begin warming up to the idea of Romney as the nominee. The primary is not over yet, but Romney is in a strong position.

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