The Republican Debate–then there were two
If nothing else last night, the Republican debate did one thing – it narrowed the present GOP field to two. Oh the others will be around for a while and they’ll press their case, but in the absence of a miracle (or the entry of a better or more appealing candidate) it seems the fight will be between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry as the two battle it out for the GOP nomination. Again, that’s assuming no other candidate enters the fray.
Why am I saying this – because of the targets each of the two drew a bead on. Each other. Romney, who had been considered the consensus front runner went after Perry and Perry did the same with Romney.
It left the rest sort of twisting in the wind. The New York Times gives you the blow by blow:
A series of spirited exchanges between the two men, which revealed differences in substance and style, offered the first extensive look into the months-long contest ahead. They traded attacks on each other’s job creation records and qualifications to be president, overshadowing their opponents in the crowded Republican field.
Mr. Perry doubled down on his view of Social Security, assailing it as a “monstrous lie,” and he questioned scientists’ assertions that climate change has been caused by human activity. Mr. Romney said that Social Security should be protected and suggested that Mr. Perry’s positions would make it difficult for the Republican Party to appeal to a broad base of voters needed to win the White House.
“Maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country,” said Mr. Perry, who spent much of his time in his first presidential debate defending his Texas record and a litany of positions in his book, “Fed Up!”
Mr. Perry attacked Mr. Romney’s record of creating jobs in Massachusetts and his championing of health care legislation when he was governor. Mr. Romney, in turn, cast Mr. Perry as a career politician.
“Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” Mr. Perry said, referring to the former Democratic governor who ran for president in 1988.
“Well, as a matter of fact,” Mr. Romney replied, “George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.”
One of the political dangers of these sorts of "spirited debates" is the candidates do the opposition research for the other team. But this was typical of the exchanges last night, made ironically in the library of a president who believed strongly in the political 11th commandment.
However, some blunt talk about the situation we’re in would be refreshing and provide for some actual debate about solutions for a change.
Stanley Kurtz lays out his assessment of the debate in a very succinct one paragraph summary:
This was a very successful debate debut for Rick Perry. It confirms his position as the leader of the field. As of now, this race is a Perry-Romney duel, but Perry’s the one to beat. Romney and Perry were well matched tonight, but Perry’s appeal to the base means he’s got a leg up over Romney just by fighting to a draw, which he did at least, if not better.
Of course the Romney camp is claiming debate victory. No surprise there. That press release was written before the candidates stepped on the stage. But there wasn’t a clear cut winner in most minds I don’t believe. However you’d have to be deaf and blind to the debate not to have realized the field has really narrowed itself to two:
There are no guarantees here, of course, which is one reason it’s nice to have a continuing Romney-Perry duel. This next month-or-so of debates is going to help both Romney and Perry with their greatest weaknesses. Romney is going to get a second look from conservatives, which he deserves. Romneycare is a problem that will never entirely fade. Yet it increasingly it looks as though it won’t be prohibitive, should Perry falter. Meanwhile, Perry is going to have a chance to get his message through to the public on the entitlement crisis, and it just might work.
So Rick Perry survived his first debate and will probably learn from the experience and do even better the next time. Apparently he lived up to most expectations. Romney, well he’s Romney, the seemingly perpetual second place candidate (even when he is the supposed front runner). As Kurtz says, these two can spend the next few months sharpening each other up in debates. What’s interesting though is both of them have better records than the man they would face in any presidential debate.
We’re 15 months out and it takes a lot of money to fund a presidential campaign. When you are not in the limelight, a hot candidate or a frontrunner, those funds necessary to continue become harder and harder to raise. It think last night may have signaled the end of many of the lesser candidates chances for the nomination and I expect some to withdraw in the next month or two.
In the meantime, it’s Perry and Romney, slugging it out. But Jen Rubin issues the Perry camp a warning that they should heed:
The pace of a presidential campaign in the early going is leisurely, but right about now, things pick up. Perry is a good pol, but he better be ready to show he’s got some policy chops as well, and before his opponents start characterizing his views.
Agreed. Better the candidate frame his positions than let the opposition do it for him. Perry’s bunch better be able to put some details and specifics on their one-over-the-world policy pronouncements, it will end up an one man race and Perry won’t be the “one”.