Unable to break a glass jaw

Remember the stuff I said yesterday about the heated confrontations we could expect in the Republican debate in New Hampshire? Well, forget it. The GOP field is led by a weak frontrunner with a glass jaw, but his rivals are neither willing nor able to take an effective swing.

Herman Cain vowed yesterday, “I’m going after Romney.” Rick Perry unveiled a very hard-hitting video on Monday, and seemed to realize the importance of being aggressive before it’s too late.

And yet, Romney, whose good fortune is “starting to seem supernatural,” walked away unscathed. His Republican rivals are so awful, they make Romney look like the best debater since Cicero, not because he’s particularly extraordinary, but because the rest of the field is an inarticulate, undifferentiated blob.

Put it this way: if one had to pick one subject that dominated the debate last night, what would it be? Romney’s Obama-like health care law? Romney’s atrocious record on job creation? Romney’s integrity-free flip-flopping? No, it was Herman Cain’s deeply silly “9-9-9” tax plan. Romney not only lucked out with pathetic challengers, he also lucks out by the topics of conversation.

And what of Rick Perry’s big comeback opportunity? The Texas governor conceded after the event, “Debates are not my strong suit.” That’s an understatement — his best moments came when he was able to say nothing for long stretches of time. A few days ago, Perry’s aides assured the political world he’d be better prepped, more relaxed, and better focused, but even his supporters should realize at this point that the guy just isn’t ready for prime-time.

I trust everyone noticed this remarkable answer from the former frontrunner:

“We’re missing this so much. What we need to be focused on in this country today is not whether or not we’re going to have this policy or that policy. What we need to be focused on is how we get America working again. That’s where we need to be focused.”

Oh, good. Perry wants to create jobs, but not through public policy. Let’s also not overlook this exchange:

TUMULTY: Governor Perry, over the last 30 years, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has grown by more than 300 percent. And yet, we have more people living in poverty in this country than at any time in the last 50 years. Is this acceptable? And what would you do to close that gap?

PERRY: The reason we have that many people living in poverty is because we’ve got a president of the United States who’s a job killer. That’s what’s wrong with this country today.

I see. So the class gap that started expanding in earnest while President Obama was in high school is, apparently, in Perry’s odd mind, entirely a new phenomenon.

It’s probably a stretch to say Perry’s finished. He’s still the most viable non-Romney Republican, and he has plenty of money to run some pretty brutal attack ads. But if he doesn’t learn how to be a presidential candidate very quickly, the governor will soon face questions about why he even chose to run in the first place.

As for the rest of the field, Jon Huntsman’s attempts at humor fell flat; Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann are stark raving mad; Ron Paul is Ron Paul; Rick Santorum is awfully whiny; and Herman Cain has a large enough personality to be rewarded with a Fox News show soon after dropping out.

And as hard as it is to believe, it’s very likely the Republican presidential nomination will go to a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change, and who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.