How Mitt Romney Got Attacked and You Didn't Notice

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 7 2012 11:41 AM

How Mitt Romney Got Attacked and You Didn't Notice

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MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 07: Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum acknowledge supporters during a commercial break in the ABC News, Yahoo! News, and WMUR Republican Presidential Debate at Saint Anselm College January 7, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. The GOP contenders are in the final stretch of campaigning for the New Hampshire primary, the first in the nation, to be held on January 10. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. -- Time was that Rick Santorum, the perennial 1 percent candidate, would hang out in the spin room and talk to every last deadline junkie. Give him credit. Santorum was the one candidate who actually walked into the spin room, staying for five questions, then heading out. The last question threw him: Why didn't he attack Mitt Romney?

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"I did attack Romney!" said Santorum. "I repeatedly attacked Romney! I'm surprised people thought I didn't. The issue of health care, unfortunately, didn't come up in the course of the debate, but I brought it up."

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This was very amusing to Romney's strategist Eric Fehrnstrom. "You know what?" he scoffed. "I think Gov. Romney did so well that you guys think nobody attacked him. But he was attacked for his Bain record. He was attacked for his tax plan. He was attacked by Rick Santorum for being a manager." All to no avail. "To the extent that Mitt Romney won Iowa and is doing so well in New Hampshire, it's that people see him as an economic savior."

Also important: Seriously, there wasn't that much of an attack on Romney. Ron Paul directed all of his fire at Rick Santorum, who if polls are to believe is still well beyond Paul's second place. "We're not fishing from the same pond," explained Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton. "We're fighting to consolidate ourselves as the lone anti-Romney alternative."

So we have one debate left before Tuesday, when someone has a chance to be the anti-Romney. I asked John Sununu, the former governor of the state, and a Romney endorser, if Romney just needed to worry about his victory margin.

"When George [H.W.] Bush won in 1988, he was in the high 30s," said Sununu. "That was basically a two-man race. This is between seven."

This was actually a stretch. Rick Perry's irrelevant. Buddy Roemer's getting no attention. And Sununu ranked Jon Huntsman "at the lower end of the lower tier."

"That's where he's gonna end up," he said. "Just watch. He's been here, and he's totally unimpressed everyone. Being seen is not what you what to do. You need to be seen in a way that impresses people."

(By the way, this is not one of those headlines you should interpret literally.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.