For a brief moment during the still-early campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the debate in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney's fellow Republicans clearly decided to go easy on him.
But the truce, if you could call it that, now appears over. The kid gloves worn during last week's debate have come off.
Over the weekend Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) went after the GOP frontrunner for his refusal to sign the Susan B. Anthony List's anti-abortion pledge.
Romney explained on NationalReview.com that while he opposes abortion, he couldn't sign the pledge because, if the policy it envisions became reality, hospitals could lose federal funding.
As much as I share the goals of the Susan B. Anthony List, its well-meaning pledge is overly broad and would have unintended consequences. That is why I could not sign it. It is one thing to end federal funding for an organization like Planned Parenthood; it is entirely another to end all federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America. That is precisely what the pledge would demand and require of a president who signed it.
The pledge also unduly burdens a president's ability to appoint the most qualified individuals to a broad array of key positions in the federal government. I would expect every one of my appointees to carry out my policies on abortion and every other issue, irrespective of their personal views.
To this, Bachmann responded:
"It is distressing that Governor Romney refuses to sign the SBA Pledge, even while claiming to be pro-life. The excuses for not signing clearly continue the doubts about his leadership and commitment to ending the practice of abortion – particularly for a candidate who ran as pro-choice for the Senate and Governorship of Massachusetts. Any Presidential candidate seeking our party's nomination should sign the SBA Pledge and vow to protect life from conception to natural death. Governor Romney should reconsider his decision not to sign the Pledge just as he reconsidered his position on the life issue during the last campaign.
Bachmann was clearly mining the rich material Romney has provided his opponents by shifting his position on a number of issues over the years in ways many opponents and voters see as politically opportunistic.
Bachmann's criticism came after Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, decided to go back on the attack against Romney over the similarities between the health care law the frontrunner signed into law in Massachusetts when he as governor and the federal health care law President Obama signed.
During the debate, Pawlenty passed up the opportunity to hammer Romney as he had the day before by referring to "Obamneycare." But later in the week, he was resumed the offensive against the frontrunner, saying he had erred during the debate.
Meanwhile, it wasn't only those competing for the presidential nomination who expressed doubts about Romney on some key issues.
The GOP frontrunner was also criticized by fellow Republicans Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for suggesting during the debate that the Afghan government and people were engaged in a war of independence from the Taliban, the kind of war the U.S. shouldn't be involved in, he said.
On NBC News' Meet the Press Sunday, Graham said:
If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama's left on Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, you're going to meet a lot of headwinds. This is not a war of Afghan independence from my point of view. This is the center of gravity against the war on terror, radical Islam. It is in our national security interest to make sure the Taliban never come back. If we fail in Afghanistan, they will kill every moderate who tried to help us, and no one in the future will, will step up. It will destabilize Pakistan beyond what exists today. It will be a colossal national security mistake.
This is more the normal situation for a frontrunner than the debate, which was something of an anomaly.
Frontrunners at this stage of a presidential race usually face tough attacks from competitors for their party's nomination. They also get criticized by other in their party when they seem to stray from the party's positions. It can all work out to the frontrunner's benefit if gets the nomination by making him a better campaigner for the general election.
Of course, it can leave a frontrunner pretty damaged, too.