I watched tonight’s South Carolina debate, having skipped the last several such events. It was exceptionally interesting. There is much one might say, but two observations stand out.
First, all four participants did very well. Starting in the 1980s or 1990s, voters began, for some reason, to value above all else the skills that are on display in “debates.” So it probably isn’t surprising that the four survivors of the Republican primary process, which already seems reminiscent of the Bataan Death March, are those who from the beginning have excelled in this televised format, while–to take one example–Rick Perry, who arguably had the best record of the candidates, sank like a stone when he proved to be a poor “debater.” All four of those on the stage tonight did well, I would say considerably better than we have ever seen Barack Obama perform in a similar environment.
Second, Newt Gingrich fell short because he didn’t dominate. Newt is very smart, and is a master of the one-liner. But tonight, while he performed well, he failed to outshine his competitors. Mitt Romney, in particular, was just as effective as Gingrich, at times more so, as when he accepted responsibility for being successful. My guess is that Romney won the South Carolina primary tonight. We will soon know whether that prediction is correct.