John Podhoretz sums it up perfectly:
Watching [Mitt Romney] try to figure out how to talk about the fact that his health-care plan forced everyone in Massachusetts to buy an insurance policy, just as Obama’s health-care plan will force everyone in America to do so, makes it clear what a relatively easy time he has had of it so far.
Such questions should have been the focus of the campaign in the summer, given Romney’s front-runner status, but there were a series of weird distractions. The debates compelled media types to spread the questions around to eight or nine people, thus allowing Romney to stay conveniently on the sidelines when he wanted to be. Meanwhile, other candidates feuded, rose and fell in the bid to be the not-Romney.
Romney did well in the debates because he couldn’t be pinned down, and knew how to escape the noose when it was dangling over him. Sitting across from Bret Baier in a Florida warehouse, he couldn’t dance around his own ideological contradictions. He was trapped, and he acted that way.
I expect that after Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina, there’s suddenly going to be a lot less cover for Mitt Romney. I also suspect that we’re underestimating the financial impact that non-candidate groups can have on the primaries in these halcyon post-Citizens United days: that won’t help candidates who decide to drop out/suspend their campaigns, but it will support the message that the surviving ones are putting out. And that message is likely to be We can do better.
All in all, it is my polite suggestion that, instead of ducking out of one-on-one debates*, the Romney campaign start grabbing as many as they can before the delegate counts start piling up. Because there’s a limit to how long a strategy of “Let’s you and him fight” can go on before people get annoyed…
*I will be merciful, and not give my opinion of this.