Tonight's Republican presidential debate was pretty lame. Instead of a debate, it was more of a group interview, with the candidates taking turns answering different questions posed by NBC's Brian Williams and, briefly, two assistants — an editor named Adam Smith from a Florida newspaper and Beth Reinhard of National Journal. Ms. Reinhard at one point asked, apparently seriously, "Why didn't the Bush tax cuts work?" Newt Gingrich answered that the country would have been in much worse shape without them, which is true, but which also failed to adequately capture the growth they unleashed.
The liveliest exchange of the debate was when Mitt Romney tore into Mr. Gingrich, describing him as "an influence peddler in Washington" who "had to resign in disgrace from his job as speaker." Mr. Gingrich tried to avoid responding directly, but finally said to Mr. Romney, "you've been walking around this state saying things that are untrue."
By the time the debate ended, I liked Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich both less than I did going in, which was probably just what NBC wanted.
Rick Santorum got in one good answer at the end, saying that both Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich had supported an individual health insurance mandate, cap and trade for emissions, and Wall Street bailouts. "They rejected conservatism," Mr. Santorum said, describing those points as "the three issues that got the Tea Party started."
Ron Paul blamed America for provoking Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, asserting, "We're blockading them...This is retaliation."
In response to a question from Mr. Williams about the threat of a flood of Cuban immigrants to Florida after the death of Fidel Castro, neither Mr. Romney nor Mr. Gingrich seized the opportunity to say that they would welcome such immigrants to America.
Mr. Romney announced he is a big believer in regulation. "Markets have to have regulation in order to work," he said. "You can't have everyone open a bank in their garage." Those garage-started businesses have been a real problem in Silicon Valley.
Maybe Thursday night's debate will be better, and maybe it will all look better compared to Tuesday night's Obama State of the Union, and maybe — almost certainly — under that kind of pressure I wouldn't give such great answers myself. But I found the whole two hours or so mildly depressing.