You do have to admire the near perfection of Mitt Romney as a candidate. It's no easy thing to find someone with such poise, movie-star looks, high intelligence, family stability and record of accomplishment. He is accused of being too smooth by those of us less gifted by nature.
And yet he did not win the Republican debate the other night. There were several reasons. In the first place, he picked a fight with John McCain and received in response a lacerating put-down. "I have not changed my position on even-numbered years or changed because of the different offices that I may be running for." Second, Romney's riff about Washington, D.C., being "broken" may have sounded new when Jimmy Carter used it in 1976, and it may have been plausible coming from Ronald Reagan, but in 2007 it is stale and almost meaningless.
What is broken? Our unfulfillable commitment to the baby boomers? Our immigration policy? Our too-small military? How would he reform those things? Without specifics, he bears a resemblance to Ross Perot promising to get under the hood and fix things. The problems we face do not cry out for a man on a white horse, but for someone who can persuade the nation about what is required to face our problems.
John McCain spent much of the evening reminding audiences of why they were lukewarm about him in the first place. Mr. Campaign Finance Reform demanded to know whether there was too little money sloshing around political campaigns. A better question would have been whether McCain/Feingold has reduced the influence of money in politics at all. So-called 527 groups have popped up like dandelions, fed by the funds that can no longer be contributed to political parties.
McCain also invoked bi-partisanship and "reaching across the aisle" several times. While this may play well in a general election, it's unlikely to quicken the pulse of Republican primary voters.
Rudy Giuliani completely missed the point of the question about abortion. Asked whether he saw a parallel between the anti-slavery and anti-abortion movements, he seemed mystified and responded, "Well, there [are] no circumstances under which I could possibly imagine anyone choosing slavery or supporting slavery." But the point was that just as no one would choose to be a slave, no unborn child would choose to be aborted.