GOP debate: The winners and losers
On the latest episode of "The Drive," which you can watch above, I break down the winners and losers in Monday night's Republican presidential debate - which included one contender who wasn't actually in the building.
The big winners of the night were Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. Bachmann announced her campaign at the debate, garnering early headlines, and she spoke in clear, compelling sound bites - so much so that her occasional stumbles are unlikely to be remembered. With her performance, Bachmann positioned herself as a plausible Tea Party standard bearer, as well as a viable alternative to potential candidate Sarah Palin.
As the closest thing to a frontrunner in the field, meanwhile, Romney had been expected to take hits at the debate. But his rivals held their fire, allowing the former Massachusetts governor to sail through the debate without any real damage. Romney was so relaxed and comfortable that he even managed an update on the Boston Bruins' lead in the Stanley Cup finals - winning a roar of approval from the New Hampshire audience.
The biggest loser of the night was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had been expected to attack Romney on his health care plan. On Sunday, Pawlenty coined the term "Obamneycare" to draw a link between the Massachusetts law signed by Romney and the federal health care law so disdained by Republicans. He awkwardly retreated from that made-up word, however, instead opting to play nice and largely fade into the woodwork with the other candidates. It was an odd choice for a candidate seeking to present himself as the alternative to Romney - and one who had gone on the offensive just one day before.
These debates are little-watched by the general public but are important events for the donors, reporters and GOP officials who can make or break a contender. Pawlenty's timid performance is already raising questions among this group about Pawlenty's ability to face off with the frontrunner.
Another loser: Herman Cain. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO had been the breakout star of the first debate, but his underwhelming debate performance will harden the emerging conventional wisdom that he is a compelling figure but not quite ready for prime time.
Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, did nothing to improve their status as serious long shots for the nomination; Santorum didn't produce any YouTube moments to galvanize the social conservatives he has been courting, while Gingrich's regular scowling isn't going to help win over the donors scared off by his disastrous campaign rollout and staff mutiny.
Ron Paul, meanwhile, was the Ron Paul we've come to expect: Charming, clear-eyed and perfectly willing to break with GOP orthodoxy. But unless the GOP electorate shifts dramatically toward his brand of libertarianism, Paul will remain little threat to Romney and whoever emerges as his top rivals.
Check out the full episode of "The Drive" above.
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