In a blog entry at the American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie writes that Mitt Romney stayed on course to win the GOP presidential nomination by maintaining his cool and staving off his opponents' questions during Monday night's debate in South Carolina.

The conservative candidates, each ostensibly vying to be the race's alternative to Romney, backed off the former Massachusetts governor, allowing him to take the stage — and command it — on questions about the economy. “What I’m concerned with this president is that he’s taking America to somewhere we wouldn’t recognize. I think he is moving us in the direction of a European social-welfare society,” said Romney, in an obvious pivot to the general election.

With the exception of Perry’s vigorous performance — he declared that South Carolina “is at war with the federal government” — this debate was a throwback to last fall, when the candidates fell into their familiar roles and were outshined by the reactions of the audience.


This was most apparent during the questions on race (apropos Martin Luther King Jr. Day), which were asked — almost exclusively — by Fox News contributor Juan Williams. Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry each worked hard to outdo the other in terms of racial insensitivity. “If Americans do three things: get married, work, and get an education, according to the Brookings Institute, only 2 percent of people end up in poverty,” said Santorum in response to a question about widespread black poverty, implying that African American poverty stems from social pathology.

Newt Gingrich went even further, driving the crowd to cheers when he doubled-down on his view that lower-income children should replace janitors in schools and attacked Barack Obama as a “food-stamp president."

Read Jamelle Bouie's entire blog entry at the American Prospect.