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…