Back in early September, after he’d vaulted into the lead in Republican polls, Texas Governor Rick Perry found himself the queasy center of attention in his maiden presidential debate. "I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party," Perry said midway through the inquisition. It wasn’t long before Perry “oopsed” himself into oblivion—the fate that’s met each of the conservative shooting stars (Bachmann, Pawlenty, Cain, Gingrich) who’ve plummeted back to Earth partly because of the Piñata Effect. Tonight, in what might be the last 2012 GOP debate, it’s Rick Santorum’s turn. Coming six days before primaries in Michigan and Arizona, as Santorum leads in national polls, the 8 p.m. EST showdown in Mesa will be a test of how he can handle being a frontrunner—an experience he hasn’t had since his 2000 Senate campaign in Pennsylvania—and of whether Mitt, Newt and Ron can get his goat and turn their fortunes around. Throughout the previous 20 (or 25, depending on how you count them) encounters, Santorum’s been the keenest debater of the bunch, sharply assailing his opponents’ illogical assertions. But on the few occasions when someone’s bothered to attack him, he’s shown a propensity for prickliness. Tonight he’s sure to be grilled about his extreme views on social issues—you know, Satan attacking the U.S., birth control being “harmful to women,” public schools being “anachronistic," President Obama believing a “phony theology," and so much more. Will Santorum attempt to give these audacious declarations a mainstream spin, and risk sounding mealy-mouthed, or defend them staunchly—and risk convincing a national audience that he’s far too extreme to be president? Last night, he promised supporters in Phoenix he’d take the latter tack: “I’ll defend everything I say,” Santorum said. Good luck with that.
So They Say
Daily Meme: Misty Watercolor Debate Memories
- “I’m Mitt Romney—and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.”
- The $10,000 bet.
- Pawlenty pulls his Obamneycare punch.
- Bachmann: "When you take the 9-9-9 plan, and turn it upside down, the devil's in the details."
- Gay soldier? Boo!
- Uninsured guy? Let him die!
- Newt and the wife question.
- Newt and the ex-wife question.
- The Gchat noise.
What We're Writing
- Clare Malone explains the history—and future?—of brokered conventions.
- Paul Waldman offers a brief history of Romney’s flips and flops on abortion.
What We're Reading
- Virginia Governor Bob O’Donnell, a GOP vice-presidential hopeful, steps back from the ledge on transvaginal ultrasounds.
- Donald Trump robo-calls for Romney in Michigan—with choice words about Santorum.
- Chris Christie says Santorum’s wrong about Satan.
- Because of her opposition to gay marriage, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has lost her hairdresser.
- Campaign-reform maverick Buddy Roemer drops out of the GOP race to pursue a third-party run with Americans Elect.
- Andrew Sullivan argues that Santorum’s support for “enhanced interrogation techniques” means he’s “standing as the publicly Catholic foe of human dignity.”
- Romney tries to get (sorta) bold with his new tax plan.
- When it comes to the 2012 GOP, "Nobody knows anything."
Poll of the Day
The Associated Press finds that 75 percent of Republican women have a favorable impression of Rick Santorum.