In Debate, Romney Was Presidential

In last night’s debate, Mitt Romney showed how he has grown through this contest and has developed into a presidential figure. By contrast, Rick Santorum’s performance was distinctly congressional. I found myself agreeing with Santorum but willing to follow Romney. In sync with Rick but trusting Mitt.

Santorum’s replies were pedantic, tactical, and detailed. No inspiration there. He was like a lawyer advocating his case or a congressman battling for a bill. But Romney came across as a real leader — charismatic, bold, strong, and, ultimately, inspiring.

One could see Romney as the leader of his country. As for Santorum, one could see only a politician with whom one often agrees.

I have been increasingly worried that Santorum seems unable — or unwilling — to make the pivot from social to economic issues. Beyond his advocacy of tax breaks for domestic manufacturing — a short-term fix until automation renders the issue irrelevant — there is no economic policy there, just a collection of votes in yesterday’s Senate.

In trying to win Michigan and Arizona, Santorum is taking shelter behind his social positions, coasting on the momentum of his base. But in the process, he’s making himself a very vulnerable target for Obama, who would love to obscure the economic issues and focus on the social questions of abortion, stem cell research and, incredibly, contraception.

By embracing a 20 percent tax reduction for all brackets, Romney has begun to lay out his conservative economic vision on a more fundamental level than simply calling for the repeal of Obama’s programs and the reduction of his deficit and debt. Romney needs to do more to sketch out his affirmative vision for recovery and prosperity.

Newt Gingrich was like a color commentator on the process, injecting interesting, amusing, and often profound observations about civil service, education schools, and the staff of the Homeland Security Department. Gingrich built up his vote share with his creativity and insight, but every vote he gets comes from Santorum, not from Romney.

But neither Gingrich nor Santorum seemed presidential. I felt that should Gingrich meet Obama in a debate, he could critique him more easily than defeat him. Santorum could out-argue Obama. But Romney came across as one who could present a credible alternative and summon people to follow.

This debate, decisive for Santorum, is a clear win, in my mind, for Romney. If, on the strength of last night’s strong performance, Romney wins Michigan and Arizona, he has a decided advantage on Super Tuesday. There is but one more debate to go before those 14 primaries or caucuses are held. Should Romney sweep them, this race is over.

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