Mitt Romney’s campaign is essentially plastic and dishonest, an insuperable problem Wednesday’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, underscored yet again for disenchanted primary voters. Romney bested a rattled Rick Santorum in it, but this victory, like his others, looked hollow and dispiriting.

One suspects that Romney’s low surrogates paid punks to enter the debate hall and loudly boo his opponents. Not that Santorum didn’t deserve a few. He blew it, exposing himself to repeated strikes from a Ron Paul-Mitt Romney pincer movement. Seated to Santorum’s right and left, Paul and Romney took turns needling him. If, as the saying goes, a candidate “who is explaining is losing,” then Santorum lost very badly. He kept getting entangled in the weeds of boring disputes from the past in which he had betrayed this or that conservative principle.

Romney, at his most hypocritical, labored hard to present himself as more socially conservative than Santorum, noting that Rick had voted for Planned Parenthood funding. Astonishingly, Santorum missed his chance at a return upper cut. Why didn’t he mention that Romney once gave money to Planned Parenthood from his own pocket? Why didn’t he mention that Romneycare dollars go to Planned Parenthood?

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