Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire was supposed to be an opportunity for Mitt Romney’s more conservative rivals — mainly, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — to cut the front-runner down to size.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, it was a Night of Pulled Punches. The Republican candidates have acquired plenty of reasons to dislike each other over the last few months of hard campaigning, but in person they still chose to be courteous.
Only after ABC’s moderators put their feet down, and rudely quoted each candidate’s nasty television advertisements back to them, did anyone acknowledge their sharp divisions. Even then, Gingrich claimed a bit ludicrously that it wasn’t he who called Romney’s economic plan “timid,” it was the Wall Street Journal.
“I’m running against Barack Obama,” Romney said several times. For most of the evening, he was, in fact, effectively unopposed for his own party’s nomination.
Romney eked out a narrow victory in Iowa, appears likely to win again in New Hampshire and is looking surprisingly strong in polls in the next primary state, South Carolina. Saturday’s debate did nothing to slow his juggernaut, let alone derail it. His rivals are running out of time.