Martin: “Romney seemed to plead for mercy”—“The continued personal barbs are interesting but unnecessary,” pleaded the hapless candidate

“MANCHESTER, N.H. — For months, there has been an open secret among insiders working in or covering the 2008 Republican campaign: The rival candidates despise Mitt Romney,” writes Jonathan Martin in a Politico.com article titled Rivals pile on Romney

After Saturday night in New Hampshire, it’s no longer a secret. The contempt was obvious, and relentless. And it was harnessed for clear strategic purposes at the debate. Everyone — even candidates who don’t seem to be in the center of the New Hampshire action — felt it was in their interest to pile on the former Massachusetts governor.

Romney may have been knocked from front-runner status in Iowa, but this night he was at the center — of a rhetorical firing squad. Four of Romney’s Republican opponents joined together to put him through a grueling evening, taking turns offering derisive quips and questions about his authenticity and throwing him on the defensive at a critical moment for his campaign […]

[…] Combined it was a brutal gang attack, the likes of which have been unseen in any previous debate.

And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Romney. With two new New Hampshire polls out showing him now down 6 points in this critical state, he needed to set himself apart tonight.

He had hoped to sound his outsider message and discuss his private sector credentials.

Instead he looked rattled at times, unprepared for the waves of attacks.

After McCain’s final salvo, he seemed to plead for mercy: “The continued personal barbs are interesting but unnecessary” […]

Romney is the establishment candidate. He bought and paid for that singular distinction.

So: What do you call it when all of your other candidates rebel against—and concert their arguments against—your party establishment in the person of the establishment candidate?

These are not good times for the conservative institutions—talk radio, new media, The National Review etc.—who joined their fortunes to those of Willard Milton Romney.

abcnews.com’s Rick Klein concurs with Martin:

[…] But I saw that as a pretty bad night for Mitt Romney. I think he was outflanked on immigration by McCain and Giuliani — that’s not easy to do. And you can tell that nobody on that stage likes him. He’s a frontrunner here, so he can expect the heat, but so is John McCain, and yet everyone rushed to defend McCain and attack Romney. Why would Romney say he likes mandates? How could he have let Fred Thompson best him on a debate over healthcare? Just a few of the many questions he’s going to have to sort out, against the backdrop of some McCain momentum in New Hampshire? […]

Team Romney concurs too, as eye of eyon08.com argues:

[…] only two surrogates were in the spin room: Tom Tancredo and Bay Buchanan. None of the national surrogates in town. No Senator Judd Gregg, Romney New Hampshire campaign chairman. Where was Judd?

That leads me to my second fact. Judd Gregg was the first person to leave the debate. […]

We long ago predicted that the other campaigns would concert their efforts to defeat Romney. Events continue to confirm our surmise:

“MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney absorbed repeated attacks from his rivals tonight, as competitors joined in common cause to take down the one-time New Hampshire frontrunner,” writes Elizabeth Holmes in an online.wsj.com article titled McCain Leads Attack on Romney in New Hampshire Debate

The harshest blows during the ABC News/Facebook debate came from Arizona Sen. John McCain, Mr. Romney’s fiercest opponent in this first-in-the-nation primary state. Mr. Romney, who was badly beat in Iowa Thursday, has been campaigning ever since as a “change agent” able to fix Washington.

But Mr. McCain turned his words on him, derisively referenced his changing positions on social issues, calling him the “candidate of change.” Later, during a discussion of immigration, Mr. Romney complained about being misquoted. Mr. McCain responded: “When you change…positions on issue from time to time, you will get misquoted.”

The attack on Mr. Romney continued throughout the evening in the only Republican debate to fall between Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s contests. The assault came not just from Mr. McCain but from other Republicans in the hunt as well: Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson.

Although each is fighting his own battle, the quartet appeared united in trying to eliminate Mr. Romney from the race sooner rather than later […]

Romney for his part would be well advised to suck-it-up. For Team Romney it may be useful to study Sen. Clinton’s attempts to play victim after a similar debate debacle.

Her complaints were counterproductive.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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