Politico's Roger Simon really doesn't like Republicans. In 1999, as Rudy Giuliani prepared to face carpet-bagging Hillary Clinton in a Senate race, Simon sneered, "Hillary’s chief rival, Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, combines the political instincts of a knife fighter with all the restraint of a 4-year-old."
But he took his arrogance up a notch for a Sunday column filed after the ABC debate entitled "They are not worthy." He meant the Republicans aren't worthy -- of the press corps that covers them. "On this night, this gym at St. Anselm College is packed with the most talented political journalists in America," Simon proclaimed. He concluded they were far more talented than the hacks on stage:
There are the old and wise heads, who have covered many of these presidential primary races and I shall not name out of deference to their tenuous hold on their careers.
And there are the bright and fresh faces, who bring new and discerning eyes to this year’s contest and I shall not name because I hate them.
But the real question I have is this one: Is the Republican field worthy of the press that covers it?
Saturday night, after the first of two debates leading up to Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, it remains an open question.
Six men, warily dressed as funeral directors, walked out onto the debate stage, five of them with only one mission: take down Mitt Romney. The press, which gives away its insights every day for free, predicted a brawl. Four of the five would attack Romney verbally, while Newt Gingrich might actually sink his teeth into Romney’s leg.
Since when do political reporters offer insight "for free"? Many of the media elite are extremely well-compensated with the ego to match. Simon was disappointed that it didn't get more vicious (so he could make more "four-year-old knife fighter" remarks).
But if there is one thing that marks the press, it is our unquenchable optimism.
And once again, our hopes were dashed. The debate seemed old and tired within minutes of its start. The moderators did what moderators are supposed to do: They encouraged the candidates to brawl.
But the five non-Romneys appeared more interested in trying out for the job of Romney’s vice president.
Even one of Romney’s most bitter opponents, Rick Santorum, had to satisfy himself with grammatical attacks.
Romney had used the extremely common term “middle class,” and Santorum reacted as if Romney had spray-painted a dirty word on the Statue of Liberty.
“There are no classes in the United States!” Santorum said in a withering tone. “‘Middle-income people,’ maybe.”
Wow, what a fight to pick.
Simon's tone of withering contempt never let up. He tried to hit Romney with all the energy he felt the other Republicans were lacking:
The debate was notable for one thing, however: It was the first time Romney demonstrated he was shockingly uninformed on a serious subject.
ABC News moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Romney whether he believes states ought to be able to outlaw the sale of contraceptives. It was not a whacky question: Santorum believes each state should have that power to decide for itself.
But Romney reacted as if Stephanopoulos was speaking in Mandarin, also.
“George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising,” Romney replied. “States have a right to ban contraception? I can’t imagine a state banning contraception.”
Stephanopoulos asked for Romney’s opinion as to whether states should be able to do it.
“Asking me whether they could do it or not is kind of a silly thing, I think,” Romney said. “Has the Supreme Court decided that states do not have the right to provide contraception?”
Stephanopoulos pointed out a little thing called Griswold v. Connecticut, a landmark 1965 Supreme Court case in which the court not only ruled that states could not ban the sale of contraceptives, but also based its decision on an implied right to privacy in the Constitution.
College kids know about Griswold v. Connecticut. Some high school students know about Griswold v. Connecticut. But Mitt Romney, who graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, did not know about Griswold v. Connecticut.
So he tried to finesse it.
“Contraception, it’s working just fine,” he said. “Just leave it alone.”
Are these guys worthy of us? I will hold my tongue. In Mandarin.