LAST NIGHT’S debate was on Mitt Romney’s geographic and thematic home turf. That is, New Hampshire and the economy. And yet, the debate highlighted the gap between the real problems Washington decision-makers face and Romney’s rhetorical nostrums.
Asked whether he’d favor some mix of spending cuts and revenue increases rather than the automatic cuts in defense that will come if the congressional super committee can’t reach agreement, Romney tried to sidestep the question, insisting that the answer was to cut spending and “to get our economy to grow.’’
“The American people want to see growth and jobs, and they believe the right way to do it is by cutting back on the scale of government, and they are right,’’ he declared.
Actually, the new Washington Post-Bloomberg News poll shows yet again that people vastly prefer hiking taxes on upper earners — something all the Republicans reject — to deeper cuts in those two entitlement programs.
In general, Romney anchored his answers not in specifics but rather in his supposed economic expertise. For example, when pressed on what he’d do if faced with a financial crisis like the one of 2008, Romney said it showed why experience was needed, then said that “you have to take action very carefully to make sure that you preserve our currency and preserve our financial system.’’ Aha!
Fortunately for Romney, Texas Governor Rick Perry seemed liked a virtual one-note candidate. He brushed away current choices and acted as though his plan to jump-start domestic energy production were a panacea for everything. Ron Paul? Well, maybe two notes.
Herman Cain was, as usual, personable. Although his 9-9-9 tax plan came under some accurate criticism as politically implausible, he has reason to be pleased with his performance, as does Jon Huntsman. Newt Gingrich, by contrast, reverted to his long-time role as character assassin. Michele Bachmann was . . . well, Michele Bachmann.
Verdict: No big winner, no big changes in the race.Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.