And then there were four. Wednesday night in Arizona, the remaining Republican candidates met in the most recent and possibly the last of the Republican debates in the series. How do they grade out?
Rick Santorum: The presumptive front-runner had nothing to win and everything to lose and managed to do just that. Chris Cillizza, writing in “The Fix” for the Washington Post in discussing Santorum’s counter arguments, said, “Many of his counterpunches were difficult to follow and went way too far into the weeds.” And in the most telling comment of the evening, when discussing his work as Republican whip, he said that he had voted for legislation that he personally did not support. He explained this as “taking one for the team.” John Dickerson, in an article for Slate, wrote, “Rick Santorum used to complain about being left out of debates. He was in the center of this one and he missed his moment to shine.” Grade D+
Ron Paul: This was by far Paul’s strongest showing. He benefitted by the smaller field and more time to articulate his position. The outspoken proponent of constitutional adherence looked, at times, to be on the Romeny payroll. Responding to the “take one for the team” comment, Paul said, “He calls this a team sport. He has to go along to get along. That’s the problem with Washington. That’s been going on for so long. So I don’t accept that form of government. I understand it. That is the way it works. You were with the majority. You were the whip and you organized and got these votes all passed. But I think the obligation of all of us should be the oath of office. It shouldn’t be the oath to the party.” The strongest moment of the evening may have been when ask to describe himself in one word, he answered, “Consistent.” Grade A-
Newt Gingrich: Slate described him as a man in repose, and so it seemed. In command of himself, Gingrich almost seemed to assume his professorial persona. The fire from previous debates was lacking in his delivery, and he missed the opportunity to separate himself as the visionary of the four. I could easily sit in a class taught by the ex-speaker, but as an opportunity to set himself apart as the break-out candidate, the effort missed the mark. Grade: C
Mitt Romney: Romney was not overwhelming in this debate, but then he didn’t have to be. Slate described him as “steady,” and that is an accurate description. Romney didn’t win, he didn’t have to. The governor allowed Paul to do his heavy work and paint Santorum as the ultimate Washington insider. Well-prepared and in command of his opposition research, he scored on Santorum off of openings provided by Paul. While not winning the debate, this was likely the bump he needed before the Michigan primary. Grade: B-
Debates are what they are. We have seen who can debate; it remains to be seen who can govern.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has been married for 26 years and has three children.