Last night’s Fox News Google Debate started out as something of a snoozer, but it definitely got better as it progressed. It was clear from the beginning that Rick Perry was hoping to land some punches on Romney, but in the end, he only succeeded in hurting himself. Romney, on the other hand, did a masterful job of avoiding any major mistakes, connecting with the audience, staying focused on the issues voters want to hear about, and making Perry seem amateurish and ineffective in his attacks. Just an hour after the debate, Rick Perry’s “stock” at Intrade.com had dropped 12.5%, while Mitt Romney’s had risen by 9%. In the post-debate focus group conducted by Frank Luntz of Fox News, Romney emerged as the undisputed winner of the debate, and a significant number of the audience members stated that they were switching their allegiance from Perry to Romney.
How does a candidate like Rick Perry, who has had a week since last week’s debate to improve his game, manage to deliver a debate performance this time around that was even worse than his underwhelming offering last week? Let me count the ways…
First, he was tentative and uncertain about many of his answers. At times, it seemed he was stumbling around, just hoping to bump into a right answer by pure chance. A prime example was his muddled response to a question about what the U.S. should do in the event that Pakistan loses control over their nuclear weapons. His rambling and incoherent response involved tangents on our relations with India and China, and said nothing at all about nuclear weapons.
He trotted out the same answers that didn’t work last week, and seemed genuinely surprised that they didn’t work this week, either. When asked a question about how his HPV vaccine mandate smacked of corporate cronyism, he once again did his song-and-dance about how much he cares about cancer and how he will always (with much righteous indignation and emphasis on the word “always”) err on the side of life. That’s really great, and all, but the question was about corruption and cronyism, and he never even came close to responding to that.
He attempted to attack Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper on several occasions, but failed miserably each time. When he made a reference to Romney’s book, “No Apologies”, Romney shot back, “I stand by everything I wrote in my book. On the other hand, Governor, you’ve attempted to distance yourself from the things that you’ve written in your book, which was just published 9 months ago!” When Perry continued this particular line of attack, it fizzled badly when it became painfully obvious that it was a canned laundry-list of supposed flip-flops that Perry could barely remember and recite effectively, much less persuasively prosecute.
Transcript of Perry’s response:
I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of… against… the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment…was it was..before he was before these social programs, uh, from the standpoint he was standing, uh, for Roe vs. Wade before he was against Roe, uh, Roe vs. Wade… uh… he was… uh for Race To The Top… Uh…[pause]…he’s for Obamacare and now he’s against it…I mean, we’ll wait until tomorrow and, and, and wait to see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to…
Here’s an idea. Let’s not wait until it’s time to debate President Obama to see if Rick Perry can string some words together into a coherent sentence.
At one point in the debate, Perry made such an inarticulate attack on Romney, that Romney (and much the audience, as well) wasn’t even really sure what the criticism was. At another point, Perry’s attack was swatted away with Romney simply laughing it off and saying, “Nice try, Governor.” The overall effect was devastating to Perry’s credibility, as it became more and more obvious that, as a debater, this candidate was out of his depth. He came across as some one going well out of his way to pick a fight with Mitt Romney, who infuriatingly, wasn’t taking the bait.
Most of the other candidates failed to distinguish themselves much in this debate. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain did very well, scoring some impressive and persuasive points in some of their responses. Unfortunately, Bachmann, Paul, and Johnson were practically invisible at last night’s debate, and Huntsman, as usual, came across like a snarky used car salesman who’s had one too many margaritas at lunch.
Bottom line, Mitt Romney walked away from this debate the clear and unequivocal winner. Some peoples’ eyes were opened, and a few minds were changed last… and that’s a good thing.