Jacob Heilbrunn

The GOP Presidential Debate

The GOP presidential primary is doing something dangerous. It is adopting a serious tone. At least if yesterday's debate in New Hampshire is anything to go by. The candidates were fairly subdued. Tim Pawlenty and others even backed off of their attacks on presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney.

It could have devolved into an ideological squabbling match. But it did not. Rather, Michele Bachmann, the lioness of the right, announced, "we need everybody to come together because we're going to win." Bold words. Are they true?

Obama could end up in a mess of trouble. The economy is floundering. The peace process with Israel is none at all. Syria is going up in flames. Afghanistan is a mess (what else is new?). And Obama's former Wall Street backers are disaffected with him. So are many of his followers on the left, as he has steadily reneged on a number of his campaign promises.

But to assume that the GOP primary is merely a coronation process would be a mistake. Obama remains an effective campaigner. And he likes to pull rabbits out of his hat at the last minute.

Still, it seems clear that several GOP contenders such as Bachmann and Rick Santorum are running for the vice presidential spot, confident that it could well be worth a lot in 2012. Hence the politesse in New Hampshire. So far, the GOP has a far stronger hand than it might have anticipated even a few weeks ago. But then again, if the next jobs report shows real progress, the race could get reshuffled again. The closer an actual primary looms, the more bellicose the contenders are likely to become.