Remarkably, the whole cast looked buoyant and came off rather well. Even Rick Perry looked focused and quite in command of himself. That kind of performance earlier could have made for a different race. But now, I’m afraid, he is simply keeping the pieces from being reassembled among the candidates.
In that vein, the choreographic set was noticeably altered: Rick Santorum was no longer put at the far wing. He was now in the center, taking the main place with Mitt and Newt, and to use a line of Henry James, he “grasped his warrant.” He spoke with more confidence and assertiveness, and threw the charges back in Ron Paul’s face when Paul offered his implausible rendering of Santorum’s record as a spender and a “lobbyist.” Mitt was hit at different times, but came through unfazed, not jarred from his good temper. And he took care to make the special point that, quite apart from all of the details for wonks, the election was going to center on the question of the American soul or the American character: Were we going in the direction of Europe, with a welfare state consuming a vastly larger portion of the economy, squeezing out even national defense? Or would we return to the scheme of cutting back notably the reach of the government, giving room and freedom for Americans to be inventive, create jobs, and yes — gasp! — make money.