Paul Begala: Mitt Romney’s Competition Folds in New Hampshire Debate

Romney coasted to victory by default in Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate, says Paul Begala.

There’s no doubt who lost the Saturday night milquetoast: me. I woulda, coulda, shoulda watched the New Orleans Saints pound the Detroit Lions. But, political junkie that I am, I decided to tune in to the debate. Instead of NFL football, I was treated to an evening of powder-puff.

The candidates chasing Mitt Romney are the worst bunch of lame-o’s, liars, and Lilliputians I have ever seen. If it didn’t infringe on NBC’s copyright, ABC should have called the show “The Biggest Loser.”

Mitt Romney is the prohibitive frontrunner, yet his opponents turned on each other, not on him. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum spent the evening attacking each other. No one laid a glove on Romney. It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters play the New Jersey Generals.

I have seen tougher fights at the Longfellow Middle School PTA. With Michele Bachmann out of the race, none of the rest of the GOP candidates seems to have any cojones.

The ABC debate allegedly took place Saturday night at Saint Anselm’s College in New Hampshire. But I think it actually occurred in a parallel universe: a universe in which Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum was the frontrunner and Mitt Romney was in last, since almost none of the attacks focused on Romney. A universe in which shame does not exist, and a thrice-married politician like Newt Gingrich can spend his time honking off about the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage. A universe in which 4,500 brave Americans did not die in Iraq; in which tens of thousands of American soldiers weren’t wounded; in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis weren’t killed—and so it makes sense to call for reinvading Iraq.

Harvard-educated Mitt Romney claimed he didn’t know that states like Connecticut outlawed contraception for married couples in the ’60s. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos patiently explained Griswold v. Connecticut to Romney, and the GOP audience booed. Ignorance always plays well to the right-wing base. But the fact remains that the GOP wants to defund Planned Parenthood.

Unlike Stephanopoulos, Romney’s alleged GOP opponents let him get away with murder. After Romney said he wanted to get tough on China, none of them pointed out that Romney’s blind trust only recently shed its Chinese investments. After Romney spoke about being anti-government, none of his opponents pointed out that as governor, Romney raised taxes, spending, and fees. After Romney said Roe v. Wade should be overturned, none of his opponents mentioned that Romney attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in 1994, and that he spoke emotionally of a relative who died from a back-alley abortion. After Romney gave his defense of his time as a vulture capitalist (some businesses failed, that’s part of capitalism), no one pointed out that even when the businesses failed, even when folks were laid off, even when companies were bankrupted, Mitt and his investors made millions.

Except for a bit of petulance directed toward Stephanopoulos and a bit of pique directed at Huntsman, Romney maintained his cool. But it’s easy to keep your cool when your so-called opponents are feeding you grapes and fanning you.