The Republican field debated for the 19th time Thursday night, and once again, the media promised us it was going to be a "make or break" event.
Don't believe the media.
The media say the debates have been the most critical factor in the nominating race so far because the media have been forced to watch them all. And take notes. And write stories.
And we want someone to share our pain: Someone like you.
Having done my duty and paid attention to all of the debates, and since we do not have another debate scheduled until Feb. 22, I will announce my conclusion now:
These debates are making the Obama staffers in Chicago so giddy that after each one they are tearing off their clothes, running through Millennium Park and howling at the moon.
And why shouldn't they? The American people, after being treated to hour upon hour of Republican candidates being allowed to say pretty much whatever they want, are slowly discovering something: Barack Obama doesn't look that bad anymore.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll released Wednesday said that "for the first time in six months, more people approve of the job the president is doing than disapprove."
Sure, the president's approval/disapproval figure is only 48-46, but he has achieved that after six months of solid Republican debating. After six months of attack. After six months of being told that the American economy is doomed without a steady Republican hand on the tiller of state.
So what else does the poll show? "More people said they believe the economy will get better (37 percent) in the next year rather than worse (17 percent). That's the highest level in more than a year and a seven-point jump over last month."
Oh, my. This is not what the Republicans had in mind.
The debates were supposed to winnow the field and leave the strongest Republican standing. It is all very Darwinian: the survival of the fittest. (Even though some Republicans don't believe in evolution, just about all of them believe in survival of the fittest. That's because they believe they are the fittest.)
True, the number of lecterns on the stage has been winnowed from nine to four, but what have the "fittest" Republicans been telling America about their agenda?
Well, Thursday night, we had a good, long talk about America's moon colony. What moon colony? Fair question. America currently lacks a moon colony. But Newt Gingrich would like a moon colony, and it won't even cost a lot if we offer a "prize" to people to build one. As he once again reminded America, "Lindberg flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize."
Newt says we have to have a moon colony because, if we don't, the Chinese will have a moon colony, and if that happens, well, it will be bad.
But Mitt Romney said a moon colony could cost $1 trillion. So how big would the prize have to be to get people to compete for building the moon colony? More than $1 trillion, I would guess. And where would the U.S. government get that kind of money? We would have to borrow it from the Chinese. Who could just hold onto it and build their own moon colony.
Do you see now why Obama is doing better in the polls?
Not that we are supposed to spend our time worrying about the substance of these debates. That is for professional fact-checkers. (Don't ask me who fact-checks the fact-checkers. You don't want to know.)
Instead, the media decide who wins and who loses, who gets made and who gets broken. Looking for the little things help me decide.
Which is why my notes begin: "National Anthem. All put hands on hearts. Santorum and Mitt sing. Newt and Ron Paul don't. Why?"
I don't know. I am waiting for a fact-checker to tell me.
Further notes: "Newt praises Callista for playing French horn. Have words 'French horn' ever been spoken at political debate before? Unlikely, but not impossible. Especially if debate were in France."
"When asked by Santorum if people in Massachusetts must buy health care, Mitt replies, 'First of all, it's not worth getting angry about.' Presidency pays only $400,000 a year. So why would Romney get emotional about it?"
"Debate supposed to be Newt's best opportunity to win Florida, but at one point he says, 'Gov. Romney is exactly right' and at another he says, 'I agree with Gov. Romney.' Newt appears to be lacking in mindless aggression. This is no way to win a debate."
The debate wandered back and forth and finally ended up with CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer asking the candidates, "Why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat Barack Obama?"
My notes say that Ron Paul cited his "freedom message," that Santorum said he could win Reagan Democrats and that Romney said America needs "dramatic, fundamental, extraordinary" change.
Newt, I note, said, "This is a big choice election."
But he didn't say the choice was standing on the stage.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.