Manchester, New Hampshire -- "I think this was the fourteenth or so debates, and I think this was Mitt Romney's best debate," said a Romney campaign surrogate in the spin room after tonight's debate. He praised Romney for "taking the attacks from the other candidates, absorbing them, and rising above them." The surrogate? None other than former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty's failure to hit Romney effectively at a debate in June, when he failed to stick by his attack on "Obamneycare" in what he and his former staffers now think of as the fatal mistake his campaign. Pawlenty endorsed Romney about a month after withdrawing from the race, of course, but there's still something slightly surreal about Pawlenty now showing up at debates only to praise Romney's performance.
The boilerplate spin (which probably wouldn't have been much different no matter how the debate went) was largely accurate; no one really laid a glove on Romney tonight. If anything, Pawlenty exaggerates the extent to which anyone even tried. Mitt beamed as Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich went after each other in a knife-fight for second that left the frontrunner without a scratch. He was helped along by the preposterous moderators, more interested in discussing contraception and gay marriage than healthcare, where Romney is vulnerable. Mitt could hardly have hoped for a better night.
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