From the very first time Mitt Romney deigned to appear onstage alongside his competitors for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, it was hyped as a moment where Mitt would come under sustained attack.
Days before he alit behind the debate lectern, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty rolled out the first potent criticism of Romney's record, tying his CommonWealth Care plan in Massachusetts with President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act under the blanket term "Obamneycare." On the Sunday morning chat shows, Pawlenty seemed awfully proud of the appellation. But when he was asked to make the same criticism to Romney's face a day later, Pawlenty inexplicably chickened out. That basically put him on a glide path right out of the race.
Of course, Pawlenty would then become a Romney endorser and surrogate. But even in that role, TPaw was given to lamenting the fact that he got out of the race early. It's easy to see why -- in the days that followed, every single one of Romney's contenders got a turn to be the Next Best Thing in the "Not Romney" category. But another reason why is that his fellow contenders honestly didn't do a better job of taking on the frontrunner than TPaw did. As Jonathan Chait quipped, "Perhaps Romney has a force field that turns to mush the brain of anybody who threatens him."
That's actually one of the plausible explanations for why the coming attraction of the 2012ers ganging up on Mitt Romney never seems to actually come. And this weekend, really, was only slightly different. With the next primary in Romney's Granite State stronghold, the need to finally start acknowledging the mile-wide target that Romney has had on his back since June could not be forestalled any longer.
But even with the pressing need to drag Romney down, his rivals' investment in the task seemed tepid at best. Rather than a full-bore attack, the field very timidly criticized Romney for being timid. They very conservatively dressed him down for not being a great conservative. Rather than nail him on innumerable position switches, they chose instead to critique the vagaries of his career as a politician -- whom he ran against and whom he didn't and why and why not -- none of which matters a whit to anyone who's not a career politician!
Jon Huntsman got in one good dig and drew applause (which would have been great had he not poked at Romney for being the candidate of "nice applause lines"), but that's as rough as it got for Mitt. In the end, harsher attacks may not be necessary -- polls indicate that Romney's support has slipped a bit, perhaps because he's just as "meh" to the average voter as he is to the GOP establishment. That said, the word coming out of Iowa was that the candidates would be holding nothing back in their stand against the frontrunner. Honestly though, Scott Pilgrim had it a lot tougher, as you'll see in the latest video mash-up from our own Ben Craw.
[Video produced by Ben Craw]
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