I found last night’s debate so messy and scattered that I had a hard time knowing quite what to make of it. But here’s my take. As a debate, I thought it was terrible. Very disorganized. The moderation was close to not there at all. Perhaps it was that we’ve been through this routine so many times there wasn’t much more to say or to ask. I don’t know. One of the funnier moments for me was when Newt apparently got tired of waiting for a host to say something that outraged him and just attacked the host anyway, to pretty poor effect.
One of the most interesting engagements didn’t even involve Gingrich. It was from Rick Santorum, who did a better job of anyone so far this cycle sticking it to Romney on ‘Romneycare’. It’s a testament to how improbably well Romney’s team has inoculated their candidate on this issue that it actually comes as something of a bracing reminder that Republicans are on the verge of nominating the man who was the godfather of the reform which is purportedly the centerpiece of their opposition to President Obama. A lot of good it’ll do for Santorum.
In any case, Newt Gingrich had some strong moments early on. He managed to bait Mitt into some embarrassingly blind alleys — like denying that one of his ads was his own and then getting into an awkward explanation of his Swiss Accounts and his trustees. Who has a trustee? You? Me neither.
But it wasn’t enough.
Even in a disorganized and rambling engagement Romney managed to regroup and just keep peppering Gingrich. I would be hard pressed to say Romney won the debate since the whole thing was such a mess. But debates only matter in a context. If we go by the polls, Gingrich is the guy who needed a strong debate. He did not get it. So it was Romney’s night.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.