Fox News host Bill O’Reilly elevates his TV skills for big interviews. His performance earlier this year with then-bona-fide contender Rick Perry was a mix of hoot and substance. And tonight he welcomed Mitt Romney, who just recently ended a near-boycott of sit-down interviews.

The results? Well, unfortunately for O’Reilly, no news. Not that the feisty and attitudinal baron of “The O’Reilly Factor” didn’t try. In the passage below, O’Reilly really tried to lure the on-and-off Republican front-runner into provocative territory. As Romney blathered on about President Obama’s poor leadership, O’Reilly blurted:

O’Reilly: Is he a socialist?

Romney: You know, I prefer to use the term that he’s just over his head.

O’Reilly: Yeah, but you got to look at his economic plan. An economic plan that’s top down, federal leadership, getting us out of the recession--- he spent trillions of dollars on that. And people say, Listen, the guy’s a socialist — it’s class warfare that’s what he’s gonna wage against you if you get the nomination: You’re a rich guy, you’re out of touch. Is he a socialist?

Romney: Uh, you know, I consider him a big-government liberal Democrat. I think as you look at his policies, you conclude that he thinks Europe got it right and we got it wrong. I think Europe got it wrong. I think Europe is not working in Europe. And I’ll battle him on that day in and day out. But I’m probably not going to be calling him names so much as calling him a failure.

Correct: “Failure” is just a noun, not a name. Good discipline by Romney, though — declining to take the right-wing bait on Fox News. If he gets past the primaries, he’ll be happy with that decision. To the same question in an O’Reilly appearance last month, Perry said, “I think Barack Obama is a socialist.”

The best moment for O’Reilly came when he pressed Romney on North Korea. He noted that the “nut dictator” had passed away, leading to this question: “Do you know enough about North Korea to be able to handle that situation?”

Romney: I can avail myself of the best thinking of people from around me and around the nation.. . .

O’Reilly: That’s what Herman Cain said when he didn’t know about anything.

Romney: I know a great deal about North Korea...

Romney may just be right about that, especially if you consider how high one of his rivals is setting the bar.