This was a bad night for Tim Pawlenty, who looked weak when John King pressed him to double down on his "Obamneycare" attack, and he waffled instead. If you're going to go with a don't-attack-first strategy, stick to it; if you're going to attack, own the attack. Using a cutting line on Meet the Press one day and then wussing out on it the next day is a losing play. It was a good night for Mitt Romney, who won that exchange and generally looked like the frontrunner.
It was also a good night for Michele Bachmann, who confounded the off-key media narrative that has portrayed her as a sort of cut-rate Sarah Palin. In fact, other than being conservative women with a lot of Tea Party fans, Bachmann and Palin are quite different, and one of the differences is that Bachmann, the occassional gaffe notwithstanding, is a stronger extemporaneous speaker.
I concur with Joe that this wasn't a great night for Herman Cain, who certainly didn't shine the way he did in the South Carolina debate last month, when Romney and Bachmann were absent. But I'll dissent a bit from the assertion that he was "the biggest loser"; Pawlenty's performance was more disappointing.
I would caution, though, that we shouldn't forget how early we are in the race. It's not only the case that more candidates may get in; it's also the case that Pawlenty might learn from his mistakes tonight. So might Cain, for that matter. Remember that there were periods in 2003 and 2007 where John Kerry and John McCain, respectively, looked like they'd blown their shot at winning their nominations. We're in the early minutes of a long game.
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