What a night for Mitt Romney at the GOP CNN/Tea Party debate in Tampa, Florida! He more than held his own and by some early accounts – won – in a crowd that clearly had a likin’ for Rick Perry (although Perry faded in the last half; the crowd didn’t like his gardasil vaccine mandate and he received boo’s on his immigration stance.)
If a debate more than four months before the first vote is cast can influence the outcome of a presidential nomination race, the debate last night among eight Republicans should aid Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Seldom has there been as clear a winner.
Romney was crisp and succinct, prepared and focused, and aggressive in going after his chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Texas governor Rick Perry, when he needed to be. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, showed once again that he’s a far better candidate now than he was four years ago.
He did well in these instances, among others: spelling out the differences between the health care plan he championed in Massachusetts and Obamacare; explaining the problem with the Fair Tax is that it gives short shrift to the middle class; pointing out the built-in advantages Perry has in Texas in governing successfully; and refraining from boasting, except to say that “if America needs a turnaround, that’s what I do.”
Romney challenged Perry on Social Security at the outset of the debate, which was held in Florida and billed as a collaboration of CNN and various Tea Party organizations. It was Tea Party people who asked the questions, mostly better ones than a panel of reporters or pundits would probably have asked.
The first question was on Social Security, which Perry has called a Ponzi scheme and a failure. Romney has suggested Perry’s view makes him unelectable.
When Perry didn’t back down from those comments, Romney jumped in with questions, and host Wolf Blitzer let him proceed. Romney asked Perry about his recent book in which he said Social Security is unconstitutional and might be better run by the states.
Perry didn’t have a ready answer, or at least not a persuasive one. Nor did he offer the one thing that I expected from him in the debate: a Perry plan for fixing Social Security’s looming insolvency. [...]
Back to Romney. The candidates were asked what they’d bring to the White House – what thing. Romney gave the best answer after repeating the Winston Churchill quotation that America always does the right thing after trying everything else first. He said he’d bring the bust of Churchill, sent away by President Obama, back to the White House.
★ The Daily Beast - Howard Kurtz
[…] Romney seized control of the tempo in what may have been his strongest performance so far. He seemed at ease taking the fight to Perry and got the better of their heated exchanges. The former Massachusetts governor was clearly trying to position himself as the reassuring grownup on stage and Perry as the fearmonger.
Let’s unpack their verbal clash and see what it tells us about each man and his strategy.
Perry tried to clean up his mess from last week’s MSNBC debate, when he attacked Social Security as a Ponzi scheme without suggesting how he might fix it. This time he offered those near retirement age a “slam-dunk guarantee” they’d get their benefits before hailing his own “courage” in criticizing the ailing system.
Romney didn’t miss a beat, calling Perry’s Ponzi language “over the top” and “frightful” before delivering his strongest punch: that the Texan had called Social Security unconstitutional and “not something the federal government ought to be involved in.”
★ The Fix (The Washington Post) – Chris Cillizza
Mitt Romney: Four debates. Four times Romney has wound up in the winner’s circle. It’s not a coincidence. Romney proved yet again that he is the best debater in this field with another solid performance in which he effectively downplayed his liabilities on health care and accentuated his strengths on jobs and the economy. Romney played more offense than he has in previous debates, taking the fight to Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Social Security. He also got a major assist from Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), both of whom relentlessly bashed Perry. But that’s how debates work. Romney also, smartly, ignored the tea party audience in the hall — who occasionally booed him — and focused his messaging on the much broader audience of people watching the debate on CNN.
More good reading after the fold…
★ TIME – Mark Halperin
Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.
Romney [#1] Grade: B+
Style: [...] put forth a decisive turn and skillfully delivered a series of effective, prepared lines—flaunting his solid experience as a presidential candidate.
Substance: Ably delivered his seven-point plan for the economy.
His worst moment: Didn’t quite know how to complete the script when Perry backed away from his previous position on eliminating Social Security.
His best moment: Smoothly took on Perry’s job record in Texas, without sounding whiny or nit-picky.
The main thing: Well prepared and confident when confronting Perry on Social Security, but the crowd was not with him, even when he offered up Tea-pleasing lines. Still, another good night for him in the era of the two-man race: he was on the receiving end of very few shots (and those he got, he deflected pretty well), while it was Perry-as-piñata night yet again. Romney was not as good (or presidential) as last time, but still best in show.
★ Politico – Alexander Burns
Rick Perry defended his position on immigration as a principled conservative stance, taking heat from Mitt Romney and other candidates at the GOP debate who described the Texas governor as an border-security squish.
Perry, who signed a law giving some tuition benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants, called that measure a “states’ rights” issue and insisted it would help Mexican-Americans become productive members of society.
Mitt Romney seized the chance to outflank Perry on the right, endorsing a fence along the Mexican border that Perry has called unrealistic.
“Of course we build a fence and of course we don’t give in-state tuition credits to people who have come here illegally,” he said.
★ Politico – Maggie Haberman
Mitt Romney came prepared
Romney is, plain and simple, a good debater. Whether that helps him with Republican voters remains to be seen, but he did not make any real mistakes, and he managed to land some blows on Rick Perry.
Rick Perry did not come prepared
[…] [H]is answer on an executive order he signed requiring pre-teen girls to receive a vaccination preventing HPV was, to put it mildly, poor. He sounded defensive, stuck by his standard explanation, and uttered a sentence that he will probably regret when it shows up in an ad: “I raised $30 million and if you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” he said, referring to pay-to-play allegations about contributions from the drug company that manufactured the vaccine.
His answer on troops in Afghanistan was garbled at best—and didn’t create much separation from President Obama on policy. And, just like in the last debate, he seemed to fade in the second half, a fact that was a bit obscured by the general support he got from the Tea Party crowd in attendance.
If the concern some Republicans have had about Perry is a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario, Monday’s debate did not erase that fear.
★ Hot Air – AllahPundit
Quotes of the day – Sarah Palin on Rick Perry
“Palin even went as far as to lend her voice to the charge leveled by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) during the debate against Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R): That he allowed a law to go though requiring HPV vaccinations for adolescent girls because of a $5,000 campaign donation and his relationship with his former chief of staff, who went on to lobby for a pharmaceutical company.
“‘I knew there was something to it,’ Palin said of learning while she was Alaska’s governor that her Texas counterpart had given the go-ahead to the vaccine. ‘Now we’re finding that now, yea, something was up with that issue. It was an illustration or bit of evidence of some crony capitalism.”
★ Politico - Maggie Haberman
Mike Huckabee dings Rick Perry, says Mitt Romney more ‘electable’
Mike Huckabee rapped Rick Perry for his Social Security comments on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, and suggested that Tim Pawlenty lined up behind Mitt Romney because he may be the more “electable” choice.
“What Tim [Pawlenty] is looking at is the fact that Mitt may be the most electable Republican,” said Huckabee,[...]
Also, he said bluntly: “Perry hurt himself a lot with his Social Security talk and what he said may be technically true, but you go to South Florida or even any part of Florida or even the part where I live in the panhandle where you have a lot of retired people and essentially say that Social Security is a criminal enterprise, that’s problematic.”
And: “Rick likes to come across as the straight-shootin,’ blunt talking guy and that works very well in Texas and it will work very well in what I call the hardcare center of the Republican primary. But when you have to branch out and get to those younger voters and general election voters, I’m not sure how it’s going to play out.”
★ UPDATE: Texas Monthly – Paul Burka
Perry in pain?
Perry was clearly off his game during the tea party debate. He looked uncomfortable, his face was strained, his combativeness was muted. He looked to me like a man with back pain. I wondered if he were wearing a brace. I’ve had back surgery, and it hurt to watch him.
I thought Romney won the debate. He took it to Perry from the outset, and he went for the intimidation play, staring his rival in the face as Perry gave his answers. Perry stumbled several times. I think of him as someone who has a great feel for his constituency, but I don’t know how anyone could have had a feeling for that constituency. That was one scary audience. Perry muffed the border fence question, muffed the dream act question (though his answers were sincere and courageous, and I agree with him in both cases). I thought he muffed Bachmann’s attack on the HPV question too, saying that he raised $30 million and he couldn’t be bought for $5,000. Croney capitalism is going to stick to Perry. There are too many instances–Harold Simmons and the nuclear waste dump, Bob Perry and the Residential Construction Commission, recipients of emerging technology grants, fund managers who got to invest teacher retirement money. It is a rich lode, and it is going to be mined by his enemies.
He just wasn’t presidential. He was low-energy and the feistiness wasn’t there. That’s why I’m wondering whether the back operation didn’t go well, or whether he got irked because Bachmann got to his right on the HPV issue. Another explanation could be that Perry has been around so long and has been so successful in politics that our expectations are high, and they are hard to meet. He just didn’t seem presidential, and I think the reason was that he was hurting.
Romney is clearly going to zero in on Perry’s jobs-creation record. It is one thing for Perry to say that jobs is his first priority, and quite another for him to say that he is responsible for the state’s performance.
The big question mark for me is Perry’s health. Tonight was one of those rare moments when the camera didn’t love him. He has plenty of time to get back on his game, assuming that his physical condition holds up. But I am beginning to wonder whether he will have the stamina to hold up to the demands of a grueling campaign if his back is injured. For now, that’s just as big a threat as Romney is.
(emphasis added to articles)
► Jayde Wyatt