Republican Debate Scorecard
Rick Perry:“I kinda feel like a piñata here,” was Perry’s quote of the night. He was certainly the focus of all candidates and moderators, if only because he was the least known quantity and because he had recently rocketed ahead in the polls. He performed well but did not hit any home runs. However, he didn’t have to. Treading water was his objective and he accomplished that and more.
Perry did; however, double down on his comments in his book, “Fed Up,” in which he repeatedly called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. That, folks, is a crime and a high charge to levy. However, the program is deeply flawed and in some ways is now structured like a pyramid whereas when it was founded it was fully funded. Perry grabbed the political third rail with both hands; it will be interesting to see if this has any negative effects on his general election polls. It can only help him in a GOP primary. Rep. Paul Ryan has primed this race to be a referendum on the structure of the three big entitlements.
Side Note: Progressive punditry is horrified at the applause Perry received from the audience when the moderators asked him about the 200+ executions he had overseen as governor of Texas.
Mitt Romney: Romney appeared to be playing the front runner game, although he is no longer the frontrunner. He attacked Obama more than he attacked his opponents, notably Rick Perry (although he did have one jab over the HPV vaccine mandate in Texas). It was Romney’s job to poke some holes in Rick Perry (although the moderators did his job effectively there). If that was his task, he failed. In that sense, he lost. However, he performed pretty well and if there was no Perry in the race, he would have clearly maintained his spot.
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann is treated now like a second-tier candidate. Someone, I regret I do not remember who, said on Twitter last night that the media made her a frontrunner after Iowa and now rejoices in her downfall. So true. Without a Tim Pawlenty to battle against, she has been relegated to the back of the pack. She performed well and had no major gaffes, but the spotlight simply is not on here anymore.
Ron Paul: Paul performed very well last night. His theoretical libertarian philosophy is unflappable and it is refreshing to see a career politician so averse to acting like one. Like a theoretician, however, he takes everything to its ultimate “slippery slope” conclusion (e.g. the border fence which he said could be used to fence us in rather than keep people out.
He was asked a number of silly questions in ham-handed attempt to trip him up. He responded admirably, I paraphrase, when at the very end of the debate he was forced to clarify, calmly although I’m sure he would have preferred to pound the podium, that not dolling out government handouts is not synonymous with lacking in compassion.
Jon Huntsman: When T.R. said “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Jon Huntsman took the first part literally but forgot his stick. Passion is an important element in a debate, Huntsman was found lacking. Furthermore, he does not seem to appreciate the GOP electorate at this point and is intentionally misreading them. His “pledge to take no pledges” was vomit-inducing; the “No Labels” crowd does not vote in numbers in Republican Primaries, governor.
Rick Santorum: Fewer outbursts of, “what about me,” this time around. Santorum performed well with his target demographic but seems wedded to the social conservative line in a year when that is simply an undervalued asset. No change, up or down. I don’t see Santorum moving the needle in this race for anyone and I would expect him to leave the race if he finishes below third place in Iowa, which seems likely.
Newt Gingrich: The professor is in; class in session. Newt gets applause but lacks a constituency. He is a conservative, rather than libertarian, theoretician of the Paul school. Newt also has an odd tendency to attack the moderators and questioners which, for me at least, is a turnoff whether I agree with him or not.
Herman Cain: Cain still seems out of his depth to me at these debate. Very unpolished, but style is not substance. Substantively, he has the occasional good idea, but they are very much occasional. I think he too deserves a cabinet position, Interior Sec. Maybe. Or he should seriously consider running for Congress, preferably a statewide race. He is just too green for national politics and has stayed in only due to his ability to be buoyed by the freedom agenda set. The 9/9/9 plan has some resonance with me, though, and might deserve a second look.
Overall: By not losing, Perry won. He only needed to tread water. Romney stagnated. Paul did very well, but those uncomfortable glimpses into his ultimate fears are the stuff of thriller novels and not particularly comforting to those looking for an electable Republican candidate. He did very well, though. No change for anyone else—background noise as the two titans battle it out.