Mesa Debate: Everyone Happy It’s the Last

From reading the reaction to last night’s 20th, and probably last, Republican presidential candidate debate, it appears no one is anxious for a sequel.

Roger Simon had the most succinct description: “One word sums it up: desultory. Which Google tells us means “’lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.’”

It did, however, probably have an effect. Like every desultory event in this contest, it probably helped the great Default Candidate, Mitt Romney.

I decided to consult National Review‘s debate coverage, if only because that was a venue relatively friendly to Rick Santorum. Its panel was unanimous: Santorum lost by letting himself get dragged into long, defensive, technical-sounding defenses of his congressional record.

About the only thing that went right for Santorum is that he managed to more or less get away with blaming the news media for the negative attention his cultural-reactionary persona has gotten in recent days, as though this has not been the central thrust of his campaign from day one.

Beyond that, though, his defenders in the right-wing commentariat were pretty much reduced to cheerleading for the occasional attacks the candidates launched on Obama. Their favorite was clearly Newt Gingrich’s revival of the old chesnut about Obama’s support for infanticide.

Larry Sabato may have had the best summary of the evening:

After 20 debates, I have a hard time saying anything new — so I can only imagine how the candidates feel. This shopworn quartet has been through a lot, and except for Paul, they’ve all had big election nights over the past two months. But judging by the reaction I saw in the crowd and on Twitter, something’s clearly missing: electricity. Maybe it was the format or the questions or the rote responses. Or maybe it’s just that this campaign has run out of gas. The only big idea emerging from it is “get rid of Obama.” That’s enough for the GOP base but not for the much broader electorate required to actually get a new president.

It’s clearer every day: GOPers’ hopes in November depend almost entirely on bad economic developments. The only thing that could have enlivened last night’s debates would have been if one of the candidates had just come out and admitted that.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.