Mitt Romney won the NBC-Politico debate on points and Newt Gingrich won on rhetoric. But Rick Perry held his own and, consequently, locks in front runner status for now. If, however, Perry can't improve his debate performances, he may be a short-lived front runner.Michele Bachmann is fading from view. Newt Gingrich reminds us he is a good debater. Even the folks on MSNBC say Jon Huntsman sounded like a man in a primary with Obama. Today, we take the candidates who appeared on stage at last night's debate and make the horse race about them.In all seriousness, after that MSNBC debate last night, I think I need to get all the candidates to come down to Atlanta and let RedState readers ask questions — questions from real conservatives. In any event, on with the horserace.As we get into this, it is worth noting that at this point in their first terms, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan all polled higher than Barack Obama. Only Carter polled worse.
I don't know what she can do to resuscitate her campaign. She has done so well, but as Rick Perry's star has risen, Michele Bachmann has learned more and more what it is like to be Herman Cain. The debate moderators did not give her a lot of time to answer questions, but she answered her questions well. She still gives some of the best answers on Libya and Obamacare and tried her best to pick her fights with Obama instead of the rest of the field. Nonetheless, her campaign manager and deputy manager are gone. People were more interested on Twitter last night on what was up with her hair. I think she peaked too soon and is going to struggle to get back in the game.
Newt Gingrich, early on, went after the moderators for trying to pick fights between the field. He sternly lectured them on it and suggested all the candidates were above picking fights with each other and instead focusing on Barack Obama. The moderators then went to Herman Cain and Cain immediately touched on Romneycare and Mitt Romney's record. It was a missed opportunity. Each time Cain and Gingrich have been on stage together, Gingrich has outshone Cain even on answers set up for Cain. I think Herman Cain has missed a number of opportunities in the campaign season and I don't see how he gets it back on track.
Arguably, even more so than Romney, Newt Gingrich won the debate. He gave brilliant answers, challenged the presuppositions of questions, and never fell flat. It is a testament to what might have been. It is also a reminder of Newt Gingrich's forte being the fight, but his failings being everything else. He seems now positioned as the father figure trying to keep the cats on stage with him herded and picking the fights they won't have to — a role Sarah Palin seemed to stake out for herself, but not being a candidate it is a role now taken up by Gingrich.
I've actually been more favorably impressed with Huntsman since his economics plan came out. What a juxtaposition! He offers up an impressively conservative jobs plan and throws red meat to the MSNBC crowd instead of the people whose votes he is actually courting.Huntsman had a great, great debate performance, but as one MSNBC commentator noted, it sounded like Hunstman was running in a primary against Obama. Also, note to the Huntsman campaign: the yellow tie caused a camera distortion for a lot of people who now are comparing Huntsman's skin tone to Charlie Crist's. That is not a good thing. I blame the tie, which was a sharp looking tie, but that solid yellow does not work on television.Still, it was Huntsman's best debate performance, though I do not see how he translates this into momentum. If nothing else, it reassured me he'll still be on the team when the primaries end.
Ron Paul ran the only email rapid response last night. It was 100% against Rick Perry. There is some real hate there. Ron Paul now hates Rick Perry, Ronald Reagan, Israel, a strong national defense, and a secure border. He is cool with the Soviets, having denounced Ronald Reagan's cold war strategy against them. He's hunky dory with Iran, North Korea, and pretty much everyone else having nukes. And he still loves him some gold and silver.He'll hang on. But he will not be the nominee. What the hell with the border fence keeping us in? Hello? We can just go cross over into Canada.
All eyes were on Perry. He stumbled his way through the debate. He did okay. He held his own. He did not blow himself up as people feared. That, in and of itself, is a win, but between his performance and Romney's, Romney had a better performance. Perry gave an epic retort on Karl Rove, which will only help him long term. He could have had a stronger answer on social security and global warming, but his answer was more for the zeitgeist (if you'll let me use a fancy word) of this campaign season than Romney's defense of social security. Chris Cilliza puts him in the loser camp at the Washington Post. I'd put him in the winner camp not because he won the debate, but because he didn't blow the debate. That's all he had to do in the first debate. Also, he called President Obama a liar on border security, gave good education answers, and hit the nail on the head with states' rights.Only the Washington Press Corp was expecting him to dazzle in the first of five debates, particularly after a week of dealing with wildfires in Texas. But he must improve. He needs to give better defenses of his book, be prepared for another global warming ambush, and stay on offense. By the way, the next time a debate moderator asks him about global warming, I think the best reply is to ask the moderator why, with 14 plus million people out of work the media is so fixated on the weather. (hat tip to Professor Hunter Baker's wife for that)I have hesitated to call Perry the front runner just because the polls say so and even now would hesitate to call him the front runner given his debate performance except for one thing. The other candidates made the debate about Perry. He dominated the debate just by being at the debate. Whether I thought so or not, everyone else on that stage treated Perry like a front runner who must be taken on. That makes Perry the front runner and he did nothing to hurt his lead last night. He just did not secure that lead, thereby keeping the race open for Romney to make another move.
The debate winner was Mitt Romney on style. He has done this before. His experience and comfort with the format shows, particularly in contrast to Perry's uncomfortable first performance. But that's not good enough for Romney because the anti-Romney contingent in the GOP right now keeps going up and Rick Perry just showed he was not going to blow himself up in the first debate.Romney's play it safe strategy can go on a few more debates. Right now, the Romney camp is gambling Perry, like Bachmann, fades through a series of unforced errors. But if that doesn't pan out over the next few debates, Romney is going to scramble and the odds go up dramatically that Perry becomes the nominee.More troubling for Romney, in his play it safe strategy he himself made a terribly unforced error. In his effort to appear a "reasonable" conservative, he defended the status quo in social security, calling the program a success. No conservative can really believe a program that has made millions of people dependent on government for their retirement is a success. These little statements add up and work against Romney with the base. He might have won the battle last night in the debate on social security, but it could cost him the war if Perry plays it right in the two Florida debates where polls suggest even senior citizens in Florida are beginning to think the current system is untenable.If Perry doesn't implode, Romney is going to have to stop playing safe or lose. Romney continues to strike me as, to play off the title of the play on Sir Thomas More, as a man for another season. He was right for the (again the fancy word) zeitgeist of 2008, but not for a year when the GOP is as upset with the DC-GOP establishment pushing Romney as they are with the Democrats.He'd be an awesome nominee, but not an exciting nominee. Right now the base wants Romney to excite them, not just placate them. He hasn't done that yet, which is why there remains a love affair with Rick Perry that looks more and more like it could turn into something more if Perry can show he has what it takes.
John Harris from the Politico asked Rick Santorum about where the poor fit within the GOP. Rick Santorum began talking about himself in the third person and how he did more for the poor than anyone else in the GOP. Former Senator Sam Brownback might be surprised to learn that. Santorum's candidacy, in this debate, became a joke. There is no rationale at all for him to remain in the race.By the way, the proper answer the next time any reporter asks the GOP where the poor fit in the party is to say "In the Governor's Mansion in Florda." Lest people forget, Governor Rick Scott grew up on welfare in government housing projects.Now, if I can just figure out how to get these guys to Atlanta so we can all ask them about something other than global warming and individual mandates.