This week, seven GOP candidates went to New Hampshire to face off in a televised debate on CNN. And by the time all was said and done, those seven candidates had sent a message, with one clear voice. And that message was: "Hey, you know, it would be totally cool with all of us if Mitt Romney just won this thing!"
Okay, okay, don't get us wrong: the candidates also seemed to be very aggrieved with this President Barack Obama fellow. But the amazing thing was that the anticipated "tear Mitt Romney a new one" debate didn't happen. And that's in spite of the fact that two of the candidates -- Rick Santorum and especially Tim Pawlenty -- had, along the way to New Hampshire, offered serious criticism of Romney, his lack of authenticity, and most of all, his whole "giving birth to Obamacare" thing. That was his biggest vulnerability -- well, that and Romney's acknowledgement of perfectly mundane facts on climate change. But no one went on the attack during the debate.
John King set up a direct confrontation between Pawlenty and Romney, and instead of standing by the term he coined -- "Obamneycare" -- Pawlenty went limp, and for the second debate in a row, he went on a prolonged groveling jag. His campaign spokesman would later "blame the media," but it wasn't until TPaw was safely away from Mitt's presence that he took to Twitter to resume mildly rebuking Romney. So pathetic. I mean, even Anthony Weiner showed more sack on Twitter. (Literally.)
Why did no one take the opportunity to take a shot at Romney, save for a small dose of snark from Ron Paul on Afghanistan? Maybe the 11th Commandment was in effect. Maybe everyone had mutually agreed that this one occasion would be about attacking the White House. Maybe Mitt Romney's such a commanding presence that it clouds the mind. Who knows? But now Romney's front-runner status is firmer than ever. He owns the term "electable," and he's well on his way to owning the term "inevitable."
This is not to say that other candidates failed to make gains. Bachmann's initial public offering beat expectations. Herman Cain's upward trajectory remains intact. And outside the debating hall, you have the Tea Party, who strongly dislike Romney and have cash ready to spend on sabotaging his campaign. And there remains a strong dissatifaction with the field as a whole -- as well as a strong desire for a new entrant. Maybe Rick Perry. Maybe Rudy Giuliani. Maybe Sarah Palin. (Probably not George Pataki, though.)
It's hard to say that the failure to go at the front-runner was anything other than a missed opportunity. And let's recall that in 2008, the guy who most relished every single opportunity to attack Mitt Romney was the guy who ended up winning the nomination. (Hmmm. Maybe Mitt Romney should attack himself!)
But the debate was only the beginning of another week in the 2012 campaign season. Progressive activists are openly discussing "breaking up" with Barack Obama. (How will they divvy up their Common CDs?) Sarah Palin had herself a good laugh at all us journalists who spent their Friday leafing through her old emails, but she faces a new betrayal that she might not find to be so funny. Jon Huntsman's pending announcement is being previewed with another inscrutable art project and a story in Esquire. Gary Johnson's making his case in the pages of Rolling Stone. And you'll never guess what Saturday Night Live character Tim Pawlenty is starting to resemble. To learn all there is to know about this week on the trail, please feel free to enter the 2012 Speculatron for the week of June 17, 2011.