GOP debate review: Romney rising and Bachmania sweeps nation

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Yesterday, I posted a debate preview. My goal was to spell out what each candidate had to do in order to consider the night a success. So how did it shake out?

Of Mitt Romney, I wrote, “If he survives the night without committing any major gaffes, he can probably consider it a victory.” Romney avoided mistakes, performed more than adequately, and came away looking presidential. I also wrote that “everyone will be gunning for [Romney].” I was wrong — nobody went after Romney, really — though they should have. This was a huge missed opportunity, and it allowed Romney to become the clear front runner (if he wasn’t already).

Speaking of which, I wrote that “[Tim] Pawlenty must come out swinging…” He did not. This was a mistake. As I wrote, “Preserving the status quo doesn’t help Pawlenty, so he needs to shake things up.” T-Paw didn’t make any major gaffes, but he was still the biggest loser of the night because he failed to seize the opportunities presented to him. What is more, the fact that he was willing to attack Romney on Fox News Sunday — but not during the debate (when Romney was standing there) — made him look especially weak and maybe even weaselly.

Of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, I warned, “while he could easily excel in a one-on-one debate format, it will be harder for him to shine when he has to compete for attention with six other candidates.” I also noted that “It will be tougher for [Herman] Cain to shine tonight.” This was because the expectations had been raised, and because — unlike the last debate — he would now have to compete against Romney, Bachmann and Gingrich.

My predictions about Gingrich and Cain proved to be true.

Rep. Michele Bachmann arguably had the best night of anyone. While I did not predict she would shine this bright, I think I did accurately write her winning game plan: “Bachmann doesn’t need to score any knockouts,” I said, “she needs to be taken seriously.”  I think this was key to her success. After all, everyone knew Bachmann was a good speaker. But last night, she managed to show everyone that she is also an experienced, credible and competent candidate for president.