Lloyd Grove on the Debate Shots That Made Mitt Romney Sweat

Romney got hit from all sides in Sunday morning’s debate, and the effects seem to be showing. Lloyd Grove on the shots that made him sweat.

It turns out that Mitt Romney is human after all. During Sunday morning’s final Republican presidential debate before the New Hampshire primary, his rivals—especially Newt Gingrich—effectively knocked him down from the trapeze and pulled him into the sawdust with the rest of the circus acts. After getting an initial pummeling from Newt over his claim that he is above politics—’”Let’s drop the pious baloney” was the line of the debate—Mitt had a fine layer of perspiration (not sweat) on his face and he looked to be bleeding internally.

He also came off not as unmussed, smoothly corporate, and in command—his usual debate demeanor—but as whiny and aggrieved. He accused Gingrich, his most effective antagonist (but not his only one—the candidates descended on Mitt like the marooned boys in Lord of the Flies) of being “over the top.” It wasn't particularly winning for Mitt to imply that only rich people like him should enter politics, quoting his late father, George (a governor and auto exec), as saying, "Mitt, don't go into politics if you need to do it to pay a mortgage."

All this as Mitt was sinking into the 30s in the latest New Hampshire tracking poll—down maybe 10 points from his high of 44.

Meanwhile, Jon Huntsman had his best debate so far. True, he does, as political scientist Larry Sabato tweeted, have an unfortunate schoolmarmish quality, but maybe he helped himself this morning.

Maybe not. But it seems that the Romney doctrine of inevitability got a bit frayed today.