Thursday, September 8, 2011

Debate Leftovers

My immediate reactions last night are over at the Plum Line. Short version? I thought Perry did not do well, but I'm not convinced that anything important happened at all.

That said, I do have a bunch of quick hits to add...

* Is Rick Perry the easiest candidate to bait ever? I lost track, but I'm sure he attacked Ron Paul (candidates are usually advised to attack up, not down) and Karl Rove (candidates are certainly not advised to carry on feuds with operatives). That's certainly been his style in Texas, to the extent I've paid attention. If you're Romney now, or Obama later if Perry is the nominee, you have to figure that you should be sending out a steady stream of yutzes to deliver noisy hits on him, just to see if you can keep him distracted. It doesn't seem at all similar (to me at least) to Sarah Palin's thin skin problem; it's as if Perry only has one gear, and that's what he's gonna use.

* Speaking of which: if I were advising Romney, I'd be giving some serious thought to challenging Perry to a one-on-one debate very soon. My guess is that Perry will wind up doing fine in debates by the time we're close to Iowa, but he sure doesn't appear ready yet. I think there's a non-zero chance that if Perry said yes it could lead to a total fiasco for him, while if he turns down the challenge that has to deflate some of his swagger a bit, no? Romney, of course, just has to make sure the batteries are fully charged...

* Can I do a little bragging? Ah, probably too soon.

* Andrew Sullivan, who thought as I did that Perry did poorly, thinks (natch) that it "gives Palin an opening." I'll say one thing: whether it's Palin or Jeb or Thune or Barbour or Daniels or Huck, it's hard to believe that any of the sort-ofs (past and present) looked at the debate and couldn't picture themselves winning solidly. As regular readers know, I like thinking about the incentives that politicians see but don't try to get inside their heads beyond that...all I'd say is that if Palin is on the fence between becoming an all-in candidate or not, I'm pretty confident that the debate pushes her towards yes.

* You can see why Republicans think that Paul Ryan is a serious substance guy. Romney knows his stuff, and I suppose Ron Paul knows whatever it is that Ron Paul knows, but the other six were just a jumbled mass of garbage rhetoric. Of course, you can be a pretty good politician and even perhaps a decent president without actually being particularly expert on substance, and it's always possible they know more than they let on, but yikes it was unimpressive on that score.

* I'd really, really like to see Rick Perry have to seriously defend his "Ponzi scheme" slur.

* And some links: to a veteran Mitt-watcher, the great David S. Bernstein; Jonathan Chait saw it completely differently than I did; and an interesting analysis from Nate Silver.


  1. I have to say I agree with Jon Chait that Perry may have benefitted most last night.

    A lot of people (like Matt Yglesias and Nate Silver) are pointing out that calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" is not exactly a winning general election message. But it is a message that perfectly channels the message of the Tea Party - and they will be the dominant faction in the GOP primaries.

    Now, Yglesias and Silver say that GOP primary voters desperately want to defeat Obama, and so they will want to nominate someone electable, and so Perry did himself no favors by dissing Social Security. But since when is the Tea Party interested in electability? (Remember Christine O'Donnell? Sharon Angle?)

    As far as the Tea Party is concerned, Perry is electable because he (1) is a long-time governor of a large state, (2) has Presidential hair, and (2) doesn't have a foreign-sounding name. And they're probably right - regardless of how extreme his rhetoric may sound.

  2. Thanks for your analysis. I didn't watch the debate, so whatever you and your fellow poli-bloggers wrote is all I know about it. I wonder how publicly Romney and Perry will tear each other apart, before one or the other is convinced by the "party actors" that he's lost.

    My question is about the comparison between Perry and Goldwater. I saw as I glanced through the blogs (I think it was on politico), someone arguing that Perry's line about Soc Sec as a Ponzi was like Goldwater's "extremism in defense of liberty" line... a general election deal-breaker.

    I don't know too much about that election, but it seems to me like Goldwater lost because people felt positively about the Democratic Party and generally positive about the direction of the country.

    How much does "extreme rhetoric" impact a Presidential election, in your view?

  3. Good analysis of the debate, though I thought Huntsman looked pretty good as a representative of the George H.W. Bush wing of the party. If the GOP were still the party of Reagan I think Huntsman would be a top contender but not in this political environment.

    Was it just me or did Nancy Reagan look disgusted with those trying to usurp the legacy of Ronald Reagan?

  4. "I don't know too much about that election, but it seems to me like Goldwater lost because people felt positively about the Democratic Party and generally positive about the direction of the country."

    ...and then there was the famous "Daisy" ad. You can't get much more negative than that.

  5. I think Perry is actually in a very sweet spot: the militants have bonded with him, but the money and operatives think (almost certainly correctly) that he is pliable, and perfectly willing to walk back everything he will have said in the primary once the presidency is visible at the end of the tunnel. Moreover, when the inevitable pivot comes, the tea partiers will already be so invested in him that they won't hold it against him.

    The eternal task for the Republican presidential candidate is simultaneously to persuade your base that you are in earnest, and to persuade everyone else that you aren't. Perry seems ideally suited for such a task; if he has a liability it's not that he's an extremist, but that he lacks gravitas. Even his secession and Social Security abolition talk seems glib.

  6. I think Goldwater was defeated because voters didn't like the changes he was planning. With Reagan, they looked forward to the changes. I think Perry would have a lot of convincing to do to convince voters of his plans. Or he would have to dump them.

    I think if independents are in doubt, they will vote for the candidate who leaves things that benefit them (like Social Security) intact. And in this case it would mean, voting Obama, even if they'd vote for a Republican from the "George H.W. Bush wing", if there was such a candidate.

  7. You really can't have lefties having anything to do with these debates, and expect them to have any value or cohesion. It's impossible. I doubt the lefties could even see how and why that's so, but just to point out, Brian Williams is one of the dumbest broadcasters alive, and I don't know who that other guy was, but they both appeared determined that everybody was there to see them moderate, and boy were they so not gonna be a John King and get stomped on by these evil rethuglicans taking too much time and running over and not allowing them to play gotcha.

    They need to get away from this stupid format, first of all. Having anybody of the journalist class asking questions is a non-starter. There should be prepared questions, and then rebuttal. Absent that, they're not debates... they're nothings. Not that anybody watches these things or actually cares about them, but you'd think they'd try to make them of at least some value.

  8. >I don't know too much about that election, but it seems to me like Goldwater lost because people felt positively about the Democratic Party and generally positive about the direction of the country.

    Goldwater didn't just lose; he lost in one of the biggest landslides in history. Nelson Rockefeller might have also lost, but it almost certainly would have been by a smaller margin.

    We need to stop talking about winning and losing elections like it's some binary impression of what "the voters" believe.

  9. JB's makes a lot of good points.

    A couple questions: what percentage of "independent" voters are old - over 65. SS and medicare are impossible to discuss with them. I'd say Perry is partially right on the Ponzi scheme -- in the end, SS will depend on future workers paying for their grandparents. But Ponzi schemes work for a long time.

    Huntsman is part of the George HW bush crowd? They would be surprised. He is a radical conservative and isolationist.

    Really, our nomination system is pretty broken. It is easier to get some out of the nominating by not winning (Palin, Huntsman, Bachmann) than by winning.

  10. charlie:
    What did you mean with that last sentence? Who gets out of the process because who is not winning?

  11. @Ambi Valent; sorry.

    "get something"

    Raise your profile. Get a FOX contract. Score 10,000 twitter followers.

    Smart politics is understanding what you can get by losing.

  12. Going back to the proposed one-on-one debate between Romney and Perry, I would think Perry could easily decline the challenge without losing face. If Romney were to throw down the invite, the other candidates would cry foul, and Perry would insist on including everyone, out of fairness.

  13. In the second of their three scheduled debates, Senators McCain and Obama agreed that the nation faced the most challenging economic crisis.

  14. @Charlie-I meant the Huntsman/Bush connection in terms of foreign policy experience and intellectualism. If he's the radical conservative you think then he should be a frontrunner in the party, no?

  15. Anonlou
    I know for a fact that Sarah is not running. Thats what I've heard from some of her close family members. Plus she is not likely to tell anyone in September, the announcement will go past the end of the month

  16. If Palin runs, it's all over. She will take the whole thing, and if the economy doesn't have a growth rate of 8% ot higher (it won't), She'll crush Obama.

    I think Palin runs, the other candidates running now don't have the right stuff.


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