For the last week or so I’ve felt that Romney just looks a lot stronger than he’s looked in a while. Maybe it’s the growing consensus that the economy is in trouble or the implosion of Gingrich. But it’s just seemed that way to me. Just a gut sense, though the underlying weakness based on health care reform definitely remains. And he seemed solid tonight.
But the big story here was Pawlenty. He choked at a critical moment when he wouldn’t repeat the criticisms he’s made of Romney to his face. That makes him look weak. And more than weak I think it cuts against people’s sense of fair play and just being what we Jews call being a mensch. If you criticize someone when they’re not around. Be ready to stay it to their face. If you’re not, you’re just not for real. That’s elemental and I think people understand and remember that in a way they just don’t with the endless run of policy details candidates toss out.
A few commenters disagree on this point and said, well, it’s not smart to come out swinging against Romney too early. But that misses the point. It’s not that he missed a chance to criticize Romney or that Romney got away unscathed. It’s that Pawlenty deeply damaged himself. And as the only other really credible nominee in the race, that’s a big win for Romney. I don’t see any way around that judgment.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.