1. Henry Olsen is one of the few I’ve read who didn’t think Santorum had an outright bad debate. He is right in one sense. Even with all the pressure on him, Santorum wasn’t as whiny and hostile as he was in the early debates. That’s something. But Santorum still revealed some fatal weaknesses. He can’t just deflect a question and move on to something that will help him. He is like Marty McFly. You call McFly chicken and he’ll do something stupid to prove he isn’t. You challenge Santorum to talk about an issue that only hurts him and Santorum will go on forever about how he was right and if only you understood the dynamics of the Senate blah, blah, blah. There are several differences. Marty McFly is a fictional teenage boy, and McFly eventually learned self-control.
2. Romney’s performance was only slightly impressive. He has the advantages of a real campaign. He has people who can do opposition research and work with him on zingers. He goes in with a strategy and does meticulous debate preparation. It seems pretty clear to me that he rehearses. Look at Romney during the debates when he has anticipated a question and then look at him when he is winging it on the stump. Rick Santorum gives every impression of just showing up with whatever information he personally Googgled and just composes his answers as he goes along (though he usually seems to speak from the heart.) Romney also benefited from the debate being two-and-a-half versus one. Ron Paul was there to attack Santorum and take some of the weight off Romney. The questions were also designed to target Santorum. You had questions like “So earmarks, who are the phony conservatives who love them?” and “Representative Paul, you called Santorum a phony conservative, please tell us all about it.” and “contraception – the most pressing issue ever.” You didn’t get questions along the lines of “So who here supported a law that forces you to buy a government approved health insurance plan that raises premiums and restricts freedom? Anyone?” That’s kind of okay. Yesterday was Santorum Scrutiny Day and Santorum had to show he could get through it. He didn’t. But if and when Romney is facing Obama, Romney won’t have an underprepared opponent, won’t have Bachmann or Ron Paul to help him go after Obama and the moderator won’t be shaping the questions to make Obama feel the heat. The only times Romney had a lengthy exchange with a prepared opponent (against Santorum on health care policy) Romney came out second best. And Obama is better at this stuff than Santorum and will be in a friendlier environment. I don’t like the thought of Romney against Obama in a debate. I don’t like the thought of any of these guys against Obama in a debate (though Romney is probably the least bad along this dimension.)