I didn’t watch last night’s debate – at least not with the volume turned up. May sound odd, but I had it on mute and followed the first hour or so by reading live Tweets and comments on both Facebook and Twitter. The rationale behind it was that I didn’t think I could take listening to Rep. Michele “Comeback Trail” Bachmann’s canned answers and cheap shots for another second. Turns out that I didn’t miss much by not literally listening to it, as I’ve read many a political junkie write that it was one of the worst debates they’ve ever seen. Quite frankly, even though it’s early in the game, I’m already burned out on the whole debate thing, for reasons I’ll get into later. I’ve caught up on last night’s debate by watching clips, and reading both the transcript and various debate analyses written by people whose opinions I value.
The big story of the debate amongst conservatives was the seeming implosion of Governor Rick Perry. He and Mitt Romney are the “frontrunners” in many polls now, the media is also hyping their growing rivalry, and – going off memory – the last two debates have either seen them placed right next to each other or with one other candidate in between, so that when the fur flies it won’t catch too many of the other candidates in the crossfire. It also makes for good political theater, if nothing else. Last night was no exception, as the two candidates didn’t waste a whole lot of time before they went for each other’s jugulars, sometimes sniping, with both accusing each other of being a “flip-flopper” on issues like Social Security and RomneyCare. This is to be expected, of course, as the two are battling for the hearts and mind of GOP voters three months before the primary contests kick into high gear.
As someone who has been leaning Perry since the Texas Governor announced in South Carolina last month that he was declaring his candidacy, I was extremely disappointed in his performance – not so much for his policy positions but for the way he framed some of them, for the way he couldn’t clearly articulate his positions, and for not taking the primetime opportunities presented to him to count off one by one the times main rival and serial liar Mitt Romney has reinvented himself in order to attempt to win over specific political blocs that are crucial to his political success. I mean, there is no question that Governor Perry, who came off as confused at times – especially towards the latter half of the debate – absolutely blew it time and time again. This after a lackluster “second half” performance in the last debate. True, there are still several months left before the primaries start, but at this rate if he doesn’t shape up and turn things around, he’ll fall into the second tier so fast it will make his head spin – that is, if he hasn’t fallen into the second tier already. Perry strikes me as a warm, likeable, patriotic, down-home kinda guy – just the kind of person I’d love to see in the WH again – but all the best characteristics in the world won’t help you when you don’t come to the arena tanned, rested, and ready to rumble.
Which leads me to this: Rick Perry could have sailed through the debate last night with flying colors, but his comment about his support for the TX Dream Act and how if you didn’t support it you didn’t “have a heart” would have negated every other “win.” That is a NO NO. Big time no no. You simply DO NOT say this to conservatives who are sick of being viciously maligned by demagoguing liberals as “heartless” when it comes to any number of issues related to “being compassionate” for your fellow man. Unlike Mitt Romney, who has never taken a position he hasn’t waffled on five minutes later, Perry is clearly not going to back down on his support for the Texas Dream Act. That’s something that conservatives can either like him or dislike him for on the merits of (or lack thereof, however you view it) – but it is something he is better off explaining solely in terms of why he supported it and why he found it appropriate for his state to have put into place instead of shirking off any opposition as “heartless.” Red State’s Moe Lane has an excellent piece talking about how Perry – and other GOP candidates – should approach the illegal immigration issue on the whole that should be considered a must-read. For related commentary on the TX Dream Act – which, contra to popular myth, is not the same thing as the national Dream Act as pushed by President Obama, and which was overwhelmingly supported by the conservative Texas state legislature – read these two insightful pieces by Texans Kat McKinley and Bryan Preston.
Romney and Perry are mostly polling neck and neck in national polls, but Romney has had the edge in most of them that I’ve seen, and I suspect this is primarily due to the name recognition thing. It’s the same thing that happened in the summer/fall of 2007, when Giuliani was the GOP “frontrunner” at the time while the McCain campaign was, at the time, close to imploding. And Romney has been the perceived “winner” of the debates that have taken place so far because in the first one, Tim Pawlenty went after Michele Bachmann rather than Romney – leaving Romney to come out smelling like a rose by default, and in the other debates it’s been due primarily to Perry’s slow, painful debate stage collapses in the face of the relentless attacks the “frontrunner” in any given political race is expected to receive. When you can’t clearly explain your positions, don’t know your primary opponents’ weaknesses like the back of your hand and exploit them to the hilt, and you can’t remain collected in the face of the inevitable jabs that you know are going to come your way, you are going to come out the loser in any debate and you will have to spend considerable, valuable time making up for how you blew it.
Will time run out for Rick Perry?
Some comments I’ve read today have suggested that Perry supporters shouldn’t lose faith because “not everyone comes across well on the debate stage” and “this, too, shall pass.” Well, that’s nice if you want to bury your head in the sand, but I have envisioned for a long time now a GOP nominee who would be able to effortlessly go toe to toe with our slick celebrity President during the general election campaign season debates because, sadly, if the general public doesn’t pay attention to anything else during the two years of relentless campaigning by candidates, they do pay attention to the last couple of months of debates before the election. Whoever our eventual nominee is needs to be on their game 100% in order to be able not just to sell their message to Average Janes and Joes who don’t follow politics as closely as you and I do, but also to be able to counter the stream of rhetorical lies we’ll hear from the current WH occupant, lies not just about his own record but also about his opponent’s record – lies that will be amplified 10-fold by our complicit, liberal mainstream media.
Right now, Perry is not that person. In fact, I’m not sure who up on that stage last night could be.
Herman Cain has done progressively better debate by debate and last night he did very well but he is not expected to go anywhere because he doesn’t have political experience. That’s seen as a plus by many conservatives who think it’s time for a true “outsider” to be in the WH, but general election voters and independents especially may not feel the same – especially in an economic climate where people are, day in and day out, witnessing the damage someone with a thin political resume, like Barack Obama, can do to the country. Not saying Cain would be bad for America on that basis, but perception is reality during the general election season. Rick Santorum comes off strong in the debates but his so-called “far right” positions on social issues would have him crucified during the general by shamelessly opportunistic Democrats. Michele Bachmann is fading fast, and although that could change she, too, would be under constant attacks for her social issues stances. In other words, even if the most conservative candidate could win the nomination, winning the general could prove tricky and difficult, especially in the fact of the billion dollar onslaught that will be coming from Team Obama.
Interestingly enough, though, “the GOP base” has not really decided an open presidential election nominee process since 1980, have they? VP George HW Bush would not have been any diehard conservative’s first choice in 1988, nor would Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000, and nor was John McCain in 2008. This is the reason I see Mitt Romney staying in this race a lot longer than we want him to, even if his numbers start to go south. He knows that the diehard conservative isn’t always the one who makes it through the rough and tumble of the primary season on to the general election, and he’s hoping that will carry through this election cycle, and is counting on the average American voter to not know about his history of backpedalling and flip flopping to the point where even he doesn’t appear to be sure where he stands on hot button issues nine times out of ten. Right now he’s even trying to “court” the Tea Party, which he would shun in a heartbeat during the general election, just as candidate Barack Obama did with KosKidz/MoveOn crowd after he won the Democrat nomination.
At this point in the 2012 campaign season, whoever can firmly overtake Romney in the debates and subsequently in the polling will be the person to beat during the primaries. It may not be Perry. It probably won’t be any of the other candidates, certainly not Michele Bachmann. But it’s still too early to know. Would now be a primetime for Sarah Palin to declare – if she’s going to? I have a hard time believing she could win in the general election for reasons I mentioned here, and I’ve made no secret of my growing frustration with what I see as gameplaying and easy sideline critiquing on her part, but if there’s one thing I know she’s good at more than anyone else it is zeroing in on her opponent’s flaws like a laser beam and not letting go. We saw that in the debate she had with Joe Biden in 2008, and even in some earlier debates when she was running for Governor of Alaska. We also know that she’s good at shifting debates about public policy to exactly where they need to be, as she did with ObamaCare. Now may be her moment.
The good news is, we don’t have to make our choices on who we want our candidate to be just yet. There is time for all of us to continue to listen to what the candidates have to say, watch how they conduct themselves, and decide on the basis of their stances on the issues, their record – including votes in the cases of those who are elected, and the content of their character if they’re who we’d like to see sitting in the Oval Office in January 2013. The best thing to do at this point is to try to be patient and to take note of how things are playing out, and – most importantly, to drown out all the “noise” like the infighting, the pundits trying to decide who the candidate will be for us, the MSM/liberal distortions, etc. Keep your mind open. Pay attention. Do your research. Weigh the pros and cons of each candidate. And then and only then should you make your decision.
But whoever it ends up being in the end, please oh please let him or her be able to defeat Barack Obama!