Politics

01.07.12

Michelle Cottle: Why I Missed Herman Cain at ABC Debate

Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate did not alter the dynamics of the race. Michelle Cottle on the downside of a shrinking field, as Romney looms ever larger.

For this we wasted a Saturday night?

Talk about dashed expectations.

This was the debate when the candidates were supposed to stop playing around—to take off the gloves and seriously challenge the heretofore largely unmolested frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

Instead, we were treated to tiresome exchanges such as George Stephanopoulos’s badgering Romney about whether states should be allowed to ban the sale of contraceptives (an exchange Romney owned by pointing out what a ridiculous hypothetical this was) and Diane Sawyer’s probing everyone on the issue of gay marriage. With no candidate willing to distinguish himself on the latter issue, the only electricity Sawyer’s line of inquiry managed to generate was another Newt Gingrich broadside at the liberal media, which might have been more convincing if Newt hadn’t kicked off the debate by ducking questions about an anti-Romney ad his supporters had run and saying the charges had all come from The New York Times.

Romney did not miss the opportunity to note that, while he wasn’t surprised that the Times was going after him, he was a bit surprised that his Republican colleagues would do the same.

But that was the funny thing: for the most part none of the scrappy conservatives so desperate to derail Romney even came close to wounding him. More puzzling still, very rarely did they seem to try—even when the moderators begged them to. For the very first question of the night, Stephanopoulos asked Santorum, giddy and glowing from his Iowa victory, whether, in his recent assertions that there is more to being president than being a CEO, the senator had been talking about the Massachusetts governor.

This should have opened the floodgates to a massive pile-on, a two-hour beat-down of Romney and what Team Gingrich had labeled his “greedy” Bain Capital ways.

But no! Santorum took a half-hearted swipe and Romney promptly swiped back, taking umbrage at the suggestion that private sector entrepreneurs aren’t real leaders.

Trying again, Stephanopoulos turned to Gingrich, asking about the new attack ad his fans are putting out about Romney’s time at Bain Capital.

This was Newt’s big moment! Ticked about having been “Romney-boated” in Iowa, Gingrich had promised us he was going to go after Mitt—hard—in the coming weeks. Instead he started whinging about how the ad was based on Times reports and people could judge the accuracy of those reports themselves and blah, blah, blah.

Way to hide behind the liberal media’s skirt, Speaker.

Not that there weren’t any fireworks. Early on, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum went at one another like two jacked-up pit bulls. Despite his passion, however, Santorum came across as whiny. (Maybe he was unsettled without his sweater vests.) And the senator’s off-camera interjections when Paul was speaking made him come across like a kid mouthing off in class or a puppy nipping at the congressman’s wizened heels.

By 10:30, it was hard not to want to change channels and find out what was happening on MTV’s Teen Mom 2.

All in all, a disappointing showing from all involved.

God, I miss Herman Cain.