I have a new theory about the Republican cast of presidential characters, I mean candidates. I’ve suspected for a while that the reason the GOP has let Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on stage is that they make Mitt Romney look so good. In the past, Romney just wasn’t able to light a spark with the general public. Now as each of his competitor’s crashes and burns, Romney’s liabilities look like major assets. Boring? I would say stable. Too smooth? He’s never forgotten the names of the federal agencies he’s planning to trim. A flip flopper? I would say he is smart enough to evolve on positions that matter and that he isn’t someone so inflexible that he won’t admit if he’s changed his mind. I don’t mind people evolving on issues. At least it shows some measure of thought. I still like Jon Huntsman (I think he’s funny. And every campaign should be punctuated by moments of wit like when he said Romney was “scared mittless.”) but there is no denying that Romney is looking absolutely presidential. He is being totally forthright about the reality that Medicare is going to have to be reformed, he has been steadfast about the need to stop the ballooning federal debt, the fact that he wanted to insure the uninsured in Massachussets is a plus to socially liberal Republicans, and he has experience creating jobs, our country’s top priority right now. I think a successful businessman like him might have more luck prodding businesses to use the cash they’re sitting on to create jobs than our current President who has lost his credibility on matters financial.
The GOP debate: 6 takeaways
In a season of memorable debates, the non-mudfest in Michigan made instant history.
Questions to Herman Cain about sexual harassment allegations and to Mitt Romney about letting banks foreclose on people’s homes were largely footnotes after Rick Perry experienced an epic onstage meltdown.
Below, six takeaways from the two-hour CNBC-sponsored event.
The “oops” heard ‘round the world
It’s hard to overstate how badly damaged Rick Perry is after the debate, one in which he overall performed more or less well — save for about 50 seconds.
That was how long it took the Texas governor to concede he couldn’t recall the third federal agency he’d eliminate as president.
In what at first seemed like light-hearted self-parody, Perry grasped desperately for agency names: “Commerce, Education and the uh…..the third agency of government I would do away with… Education, the, uh, Commerce, and…I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Moderator John Harwood interjected at one point with, “Seriously?”
Later, on a different question, Perry said he had been searching for the Department of Energy — an agency he has no trouble remembering when he gives his stump speeches.
But the damage was done.
Twitter lit up with mocking commentary, and Perry supporters emailed that they suspect his candidacy — already reeling from self-inflicted wounds — is now being removed from the machines keeping it alive. The damage was so clear that Perry himself went to the post-debate “spin room” to own the mistake with reporters and try to make light of it (he was glad he wore his boots because “I stepped in it.”)
Indeed. His campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan told reporters and interviewers that Perry was right on “substance” if not “style,” and he took a clear, if veiled, shot at Mitt Romney as a “robot.”
It’s conceivable that reports of his immediate demise may be overly pessimistic, in such a volatile year. And plenty of people on Twitter, amid the derision, expressed sympathy for a stumble that many people go through routinely, albeit not on such a big stage.
But Perry’s already been struggling to fundraise in recent weeks after his poor debate performances and sinking poll number. With the moment playing on a cable news network blooper reel, this won’t help.
Perry’s problem for weeks has been a sense that he can’t handle himself in a debate, can’t think on his feet, can’t illustrate depth, and can’t take the rigors of a campaign. Wednesday night’s performance will essentially cement that view for GOP primary voters, just as he was hoping to woo them back with a positive, “I’m-one-of-you” message in Iowa.
The brain bubble would have been problematic regardless, but it was particularly so because Perry has spent the past two week answering questions about whether he was on something when he gave an over-animated speech in New Hampshire.
His best hope, sadly, is that the cable TV nets focus so heavily on Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s child-sex abuse scandal that the visual of his brain freeze moment doesn’t get as much air time.
That’s not much to hang his campaign’s future on.