First off, the huge losers in the debate were the left-wing ABC moderators: George Stephanopoulos, former Clinton administration senior advisor, who brought an agenda that was so persistently left-oriented and focused on inconsequential matters that the moderate audience came to routinely boo him as the night wore on; and aging warhorse Diane Sawyer, hanging on for dear life to her chair, who may have managed to top her recent stunningly effective drunk-moderating performance. One entire 20-minute stretch was focused on sex, gay “marriage” [those scare quotes again…], contraception, and abortion, and devolved into such silliness that the candidates revolted against Stephy for pursuing such ridiculous topics when the economy and foreign policy were clearly the important matters of the day.
It had to be obvious, even to uninformed and neutral watchers that never pay attention to anything, that ABC came with an agenda to frame the debate in a way that made it difficult for Republicans to take aim at Obama. It was obvious because the Republican candidates called it out in so many words. Gingrich particularly asked why the media never, ever ask why the Obama administration conducts open war on Catholic hospitals and Catholic charities.
Several candidates performed admirably. Romney, Gingrich, and Perry were frankly magnificent. Santorum was in the spotlight for the first time, and for a flawed and one-dimensional candidate did pretty good. But he was exposed, and he was dinged some. RuPaul was given enough rope, and he did what was expected in that regard. Huntsman did alright. We certainly got a good look at him for the first time.
As a noted Perry bigot, I want to offer a few points:
- For a guy who is polling in the 5-10% range and can’t seem to gain any traction in that area, it sure is something the way he puts forth an idea in a debate, and every candidate feels compelled to respond. Along with all of his other (considerable) assets, add to it this: when he walks into a room, the other big sticks defer to him. This is a quality that nobody ever scorecords, but is tremendously important in actually governing. While pundits love to pontificate about who has the best position on this issue, and who has favorability numbers for that demographic, none of that speaks to how effective a guy will be at moving his agenda. On that stage, I can tell you that a President Santorum, Paul, and Huntsman have no power to persuade Congress or to direct bureaucracies. Romney might, and Gingrich would. But Perry stands head and shoulders above them all. When he calls Boehner and McConnell (ugh! but the sad reality is that those two will be Speaker and Majority Leader) into his office and presents a plan, those two will leave the office knowing what their job is, and will do it. Notice the contrast in this regard to Obama, who even with 60-40 majorities in both Houses for two years, never led. He totally let Pelosi and Reid do all the lifting, while all he did, really, was make sure he knew where the parade was going so he could stay in front. He was content to sit behind his desk and proclaim what bills he thought ought to be presented to him so he could sign.
- The stumbling, fumbling Perry of the early debates is long, long gone. He has been magnificent now for several debates.
- His early image as a debate bumbler persists, but if he ever gets that second look that he is asking for — and Santorum will certainly sink, perhaps giving Perry that opening — and he can gain a little traction, he will come from fifth place and run the table. His other assets — huge warchest, astounding resume as 12-year governor of Texas, focus on jobs, energy, and strong defense, and solidly conservative credentials — will snowball. Voters are looking for a not-Romney to emerge between (at one time) Cain, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich. Now it is down to Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry. Perry’s assets totally dominate the other two. If voters start to notice, he will win the not-Romney semifinal, then he will wipe out Romney too (which either he, Gingrich, or Cain would have easily done), sending the GOP Establishment to the hell they deserve.