I was greeted this morning by a crescendo of email alerts and tweets declaring that Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann “won” the CNN GOP presdiential primary debate in Manchester, NH — and that’s essentially correct.
It’s also true that Tim Pawlenty was the consensus loser in the media beauty pageant for not backing up his “Obamneycare” attack on Romney; he looked weak, tentative and indecisive. A National Journal header on an email alert even declared this “Pawlenty’s Manchester Meltdown”. That’s a bit of an overstatement: Pawlenty scored with several good answers, one of which related to Right to Work issues prevalent in the state media discussion. While not an auspicious welcome to the national debate circuit, he has time to recover.
But this all goes to show how quickly the narrative turns: three weeks ago, Mitt Romney was ‘faltering’; a ‘weak’ front-runner in an even weaker field. As a disclaimer, I support Romney, but even the most objective observer will agree that he was poised, on-message with jobs/econ, credible, and looked the part of potential President. His debate performance was a visual validation of the Wash Post/ABC News poll finding him with a 49-46 lead over Obama. The bottom line: Romney is gaining stature — and that is the type of coveted commodity earned over time.
So Tim Pawlenty has dug himself into a temporary hole with an error of both style and substance: he was weak, and let Romney off the hook. But there’s a long road ahead, and this bump in the road will, if they’re as good as they think they are, end up helping him and his staff. The one general truism in campaigns, which are subject to such rapid, volatile swings: things are never as bad as they first appear, and things are never as great as they first appear.