Saturday, January 7, 2012

Who Won the Republican Debate on January 7th?

When answering the question of "who won tonight's debate?" this season, most of the time the answer has been mixed. This time, that's not the case. Mitt Romney overwhelmingly won the debate. It was perhaps the most one-sided debate so far, such that nearly every observer would agree that Romney was the winner.

It was expected that most of the candidates would spend their time attacking Romney. Although there were moments when most of the candidates were critical of Romney, they didn't devote much time to it. During the first half-hour in particular, the Anti-Romneys found themselves attacking each other instead. When Romney was criticized, he did not take the bait, but instead calmly made the case for why he should be president. It's clear that he was attempting to look presidential, and he succeeded in doing so more than the other candidates did.

No new attacks against Romney were laid out. There was some criticism of Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, which Romney dealt with even more effectively than in previous debates where the issue was raised. Romney listed specific companies that Bain helped start, and listed statistics of tens of thousands of jobs created by those companies. Romney also scored big against the debate moderator, George Stephanopoulos, who pressed Romney on whether states have the right to ban contraception. Romney found himself laughing at the absurdity of the question, since no state wants to ban contraception. It would be an understatement to say the audience was in Romney's corner. Stephanopoulos embarrassed himself.

The most contentious moments of the debate took place when Ron Paul got into extended fights with Rick Santorum (accusing Santorum of too much spending and taking money from lobbyists) and Newt Gingrich (accusing Gingrich of being a "chickenhawk" for not serving in the military). It was very evident that Gingrich and Paul do not like each other.

There were some odd moments. Rick Perry, falling back into the pattern of making at least one gaffe per night, said that if America did not return to Iraq, Iran would go back into Iraq "literally at the speed of light." Paul claimed that after communists in China murdered 100 million of their own people, America broke the ice with them by playing ping-pong. And in the middle of one response, Jon Huntsman randomly spoke in Chinese for no apparent reason.

Tonight was Rick Santorum's first opportunity to play a starring role in a debate. He gave a vanilla performance: Not bad, but not especially good. It was to his detriment that he was put on the defensive by Paul, as opposed to putting Romney on the defensive. If the other candidates were supposed to provide New Hampshire a reason not to hand the state to Romney, they did not provide it. Instead, they gave New Hampshire an excuse to deliver Romney a landslide.