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Did Santorum Win the Debate? No, But Neither Did Pawlenty

While most of us here at Contentions believed last night’s GOP presidential debate didn’t do any of the candidates much good, some of our brethren on the web are spreading encouragement to the hopefuls.

Over at RealClearPolitics, Scott Conroy gives a glowing review to Tim Pawlenty. He said the former Minnesota governor was “poised and well rehearsed as he spoke authoritatively on subjects.”

Disagreeing strongly with Conroy was the Washington Examiner’s Byron York, who termed Pawlenty’s performance “lackluster.” For him, part of the problem was the Pawlenty “Minnesota Nice” demeanor.

Surprisingly, both writers agreed about Rick Santorum. Both believed he did well for himself.  Conroy gave high marks to Santorum for “a well-received first-debate performance, as he showed off his socially conservative bona fides.” York said Santorum had won the expectations game (could they have been lower?) and by making a strong impression on foreign policy issues.

Reviews like this (Santorum’s campaign was tweeting York’s article to the world this morning) do have the potential to breathe a little life in Santorum’s campaign but as our friend and former colleague Jennifer Rubin pointed out in the Washington Post, the former senator’s boast about beating Democratic incumbents fails to take into account the fact that a Democratic challenger beat him like a drum in his last race.

I think Santorum did score points when he explained the rationale for a foreign-policy critique of President Obama even in the wake of the bin Laden killing. And while it may not endear him to many general election voters, his attempt to position himself as the hardest of the hard-core social conservatives was politically smart (even if it was also abrasive and arrogant), and could serve to keep his candidacy alive. To dive back into the baseball metaphors that we were debating last night on Contentions, Santorum’s few good moments (and he had a few along with some genuinely bad ones as when he tried to explain his vote on free prescriptions or his attack on working women) are about as meaningful as a base hit in a spring training game. It may be exhilarating for the candidate, but it doesn’t mean anything in the long run.

As for Pawlenty, I’ve got to come down on the side of those who are less than sanguine about the way he came across. He was, as I noted during the debate, the one with the most polished answers and sounded the most knowledgeable on foreign policy. But his attitude seemed phony, if not sanctimonious. I think it was more than the bad makeup job that Jen Rubin and others have pointed out. If this was his first chance to breakout from the pack, he missed it.



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