Post-debate analysis

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

The big story from Monday night’s Florida debate was this: They ganged up on Rick Perry.

While Mitt Romney attacked Perry from the left over Social Security, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum hit him from the right on issues like immigration and HPV vaccination mandates.

If this trend continues, one can understand how Mitt Romney — whose ideas might otherwise be perceived as being too moderate for primary voters — could conceivably divide and conquer.

Speaking of Romney, he has two things going for him that are not necessarily obvious.

First, the fact that this is his second time around doesn’t just make him a smoother debater — it also makes his past offenses seem less newsworthy. Romneycare is, by now, old news. We’ve been moaning about it for years. But Perry’s HPV stuff — well, that’s new (and the media loves new..).

At this point, I’m sure someone is thinking: “But, Matt, what you don’t understand is that the average voter doesn’t even realize Romney pushed for health care mandates. And that’s way worse than what Perry did …”

That may all be well and good — but the media conducts the debates. And it is very clear that Perry’s past problems are treated as sexy, new sins, while Romney’s past policy peccadilloes are, by now, old hat.

But Romney has something else going for him. As I noted yesterday, Romney appears to have finally embraced his role as the “mainstream” establishment Republican in the race. This is working.

In 2008, Romney tried desperately to be something he was not — a conservative.

Being phoney rarely works, and Romney is performing much better having finally accepted the burden of his proper station in the race. Romney could not “out-conservative” Rick Perry, so he is wise to instead focus on contrasting himself with Perry. This strategy may ultimately not be enough for him to win, but all things considered (and with a little help from Santorum and Bachmann, who knows?) — Romney is finally playing the best hand he could have possibly been dealt.

“To thine own self be true,” Mitt.

Matt K. Lewis