Writing Down What I Think of the Republican Presidential Debate, Even Though I Only Saw a Bit of It

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 8, 2011

1. Rick Perry likely remains the frontrunner, and displayed a tough-guy persona that should serve him well in upcoming campaign-related events. At the same time, Perry revealed that he is not the best debater; his inability to tell moderators which climate scientists agree with his position on climate change, and his clumsy effort to compare himself with Galileo show opponents that Perry can be rattled during the course of a debate. Moreover, while Perry may please Republican primary and caucus voters with his absolutist position on Social Security being a Ponzi scheme, moderates, independents, and other general election voters are likely turned off by such rhetoric. By pledging to save Social Security, instead of pledging to dismantle it, Mitt Romney has set himself up better for the fall campaign. The question is whether he can convince Republican primary and caucus voters that Perry can’t win a general election campaign; perhaps if played right, the contretemps over Social Security can help further Romney’s point on this front.

2. Mitt Romney did the best job of combining intellectual seriousness with political expediency. He has to hope that he can outlast the Perry boomlet, and emerge as the consensus choice–not just the choice of the Republican establishment–if and when Perry self-destructs. But he cannot just sit and wait for Perry to self-destruct; say what you want about the Texas governor, but he is the best pure campaigner of the Republican bunch. Romney has to force Perry into making errors, and as Mike Allen notes today, Romney may be well advised to begin working to define Perry earlier, before Perry has the opportunity to define himself.

3. From what I saw, and from what I read, Jon Huntsman had his best debate performance, and did the best job of any of the candidates at being intellectually honest and serious–irrespective of the desire to gain political advantage–regarding the problems and challenges the country faces. Too bad that the reviews of the debate do not mention questions regarding Huntsman’s economic plan, which is far more serious than anything his rivals have put forward. Still, by doing a better job than anyone else at speaking truth to power, Huntsman is keeping himself in the game, with pundits talking about him far more than one might expect after looking at his poll standings.

4. If the race for the Republican Presidential nomination could be between Newt Gingrich and various debate moderators, Gingrich would win in a walk.

5. Michele Bachmann needs to do something quickly, or else her sell-by date will come and go. Her campaign is losing any relevance it may once have had.

6. Ron Paul tells us that he can get gasoline to cost a dime a gallon, which tells you how seriously he should be taken.

7. I thought it was telling that at one point, Rick Perry made it clear he did not know Rick Santorum’s name.

8. I am surprised that anyone outside of the hardcore pizza fanbase still knows Herman Cain’s name.

8. Ronald Reagan gets “Bittersweet Symphony” as his musical accompaniment from MSNBC. Quelle surprise.

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