1. Bad night for Santorum. You get the sense that he doesn’t have the time to do murder boards with his staff about how he is going to answer questions. He just wings it. By contrast, Romney prepares his attacks carefully (hey you supported Arlen Specter in 2004 - like Senator Romney wouldn’t have? the Romney of 2004 wasn’t one to oppose pro-choice Republicans) and has his lines set. If you can push Romney off his scripted answers, Romney gets in real trouble. But on an issue that Romney has anticipated, it takes three or four exchanges to crack Romney’s preparation. You usually don’t get that much time in these kinds of debates.
2. The dynamics were bad for Santorum. He wasn’t just getting fire from Romney, he was getting if from Paul too. One of the distinctive characteristics of these debates is how often the leading non-Romney has taken fire from the aspiring non-Romneys and made Romney’s job a lot easier.
3. Another distinctive characteristic is that there is usually a non-Romney who ends up looking good by not attacking anybody and focusing on selling themselves. A lot of people are wondering where the charming, big picture, relaxed, Gingrich of tonight’s debate had been for the last month. This is what Gingrich looks like when neither the moderators nor the other candidates take him seriously as a candidate for president and just let him perform his Gingrich act.
4. Santorum was a relatively conservative Senator from 1995-2007. But he was also intent on passing legislation and getting reelected in a constituency that was friendlier to the other party. That meant that there were a lot of compromises and tough choices along the way (as well as some mistakes.) Should Santorum have a endorsed Pat Toomey in 2004? Does Toomey win or lose under the electoral conditions of 2004? Are we better off with one more liberal Democratic Senator who probably votes against Roberts and Alito but striking a blow for some minimum of principle in Republican candidates? Like I said, it’s a tough choice and a tough one to explain eight years later inside of two minutes. Maybe some candidate can do a good job with it, but that candidate isn’t Santorum.
5. No real questions on entitlements and the closest thing to a question on health care policy was the one on contraception. What a disgrace.