Boy, was that not the momentum-changer Mitt Romney needed. Overall I saw a mostly predictable news-free affair. But Romney looked to me like a rattled and somewhat defeated figure.
Romney was handed one fine opportunity: A question about whether John McCain lied in Florida this week when he charged Romney with supporting a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq early last year. But Romney's response was a stammering, largely incoherent mess. His resulting back-and-forth with McCain seemed petty, and offered little clarity on what he'd actually said. Nor did it effectively spotlight McCain's cynical opportunism--and, say people who followed the details more closely than I did, dishonesty--in raising the charge. Romney clearly feels that McCain is lying, and that his candidacy is on the line. So why he couldn't muster a powerful, indignant, jut-jawed, "Senator, you are lying to win votes," is beyond me. (Or better yet, why not say that McCain "twists the truth like Clinton"?)
For me, the night's highlight was Ron Paul's response to the exchange. He marveled at how Romney and McCain were squabbling over parsed language regarding an Iraq policy on which they now agree--not debating the broader questions of America's role in the world.
And he was right. Many of tonight's questions were familiar and yielded predictable responses. Here's one curveball I would have thrown: Most people don't remember him this way, but in his heart Ronald Reagan was a nuclear abolitionist. Do you agree with his vision of a future with no nuclear weapons?