GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney emerged from Saturday night's ABC News/WMUR debate in New Hampshire so untouched by his fading rivals that many viewers might have assumed that Romney employs "the best voodoo operation in American campaign history," says John Dickerson at Slate. (Sunday's "caustic" follow-up debate, in which several candidates attacked Romney, was a different story.) But on Saturday, the only real point of Romney drama involved a drawn-out debate with moderator George Stephanopoulos. The ABC host pushed Mitt about whether he believed the Constitution allowed states to ban contraception, as Rick Santorum has suggested. That "pointed, hard-edged" broadside was typical of Stephanopoulos' moderating, says Matthew Boyle at The Daily Caller. He also tried to undercut Romney's job-creation claims, and dredged up Ron Paul's 20-year-old racist newsletters. Did Bill Clinton's one-time Democratic "spinmeister" let his bias show?
Once a Dem hack, always a Dem hack: Saturday night's Romney victory lap was "the worst performance by moderators at the most important debate of the season," says Hugh Hewitt at his blog. Stephanopoulos' "doubling and tripling down" on his "inane and irrelevant gotcha question" about contraception was the low point, but it was hardly the only occasion Stephanopolous and the mainstream media let their "anti-GOP bias" show. No wonder the crowed booed the former Clinton frontman.
"'Romney rises above squabbling pack'"
Stephanopoulos did his job well: "The Republican crowd was none too pleased" with Stephanopoulos, says Tommy Christopher at Mediaite. But it's "to his credit" that he pursued Romney "like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive" on an important question that Mitt wanted to dodge, and ended up flubbing. "Despite Romney's insistence to the contrary, several states have introduced 'personhood' ballot measures that could ban most forms of birth control." Stephanopoulos' persistence helped reveal Romney's "painful ignorance about the issues of privacy and banning contraception."
"Romney trips on contraception question"
This was just a one-time mistake: Stephanopolous has generally "made an almost [Tim] Russert-like transition from partisan operative to fair-minded journalist," says Michael Barone at The Washington Examiner. But in this case, the contraception exchange was pretty clearly "partisan game playing." Yes, Santorum wants to re-litigate the Supreme Court's landmark 1965 privacy case Griswold v. Connecticut, but no one else does. And "there really is no reason for Stephanopoulos to have brought this forward than to hurt the Republican candidates."
"The WMUR/ABC debate"