DEBATE AFTERMATH – THE CLEAR MESSAGE – AT 8:32 A.M. ET: A clear message is starting to emerge from last night's Republican debate. It is coming from American commentators, but also from British observers, who, as we've often said here, are among the most astute observers of American politics.
The message is that Rick Perry is the frontrunner, but that the frontrunner needs some serious polishing. I agree with that message. Perry didn't particularly hurt himself last night, but he didn't help himself either. The question about Perry is whether he could go beyond Texas, or was just a local politician with national ambitions. The question was not satisfactorily answered in last night's debate.
This, from Toby Harnden of Britain's Telegraph:
Rick Perry is now the Republican frontrunner – but he needs to raise his game
Another fascinating Republican debate. You could tell by the way that all the candidates queued up to attack him that Rick Perry is clearly regarded by the others as the undisputed frontrunner. They've been reading the polls as well as the tea (party) leaves. Towards the end, he looked slightly stunned by the combined (though hardly coordinated) assault. Welcome to the big time, Governor.
So did the debate change things? Strangely, very possibly not. Here are some points to take away:
1. Perry flagged after an hour or so (as he did, to a lesser extent, at the Reagan Library) and seemed at times like he was trying to wing it. He needs to prepare better for these things...
And, from John Podhoretz, at Contentions:
The main problem here, though, is that he seems to think he can wing these debates by referring to what he did in Texas here and what he did in Texas there. That is insufficient not just when it comes to giving voters a chance to judge him by the policy choices he might make; it’s insufficient because it suggests he thinks he can get away without getting specific and demonstrating a command of national and international issues.
If he comforts himself with the thought that GOP voters are so simple-minded or singularly focused on government spending they won’t care about his inability to speak with minimal coherence about the American mission in Afghanistan, for example—his worst answer—he misunderstands his own party...
...Perry’s key challenge as he goes forward over the next six months is not appearing to be an empty suit. In the last hour of tonight’s debate, he seemed to shrink inside his finely tailored one. The suit wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t hanging comfortably on him, and he’d better fill it better. There are a lot more of these debates to go—at least seven, if memory serves. And a lot more press coverage. And a lot more controversy. And he’s not ready for it yet.
COMMENT: You can see the pattern, and I've seen it in other comments as well. Even those pundits who like Perry feel he is, so far, inadequate. When he speaks about Texas, he speaks with authority. When he must speak about national issues, the details float away. You get the feeling he doesn't study much.
When evaluating these candidates in debate, we must imagine how they'd do against Obama in a close election. Obama may be an awful president, but he's a smooth candidate, and he'll have the press with him. Perry has work to do. Fortunately, he has the overall demeanor of a president, and he is brimming with strength. He must now complete the portrait.
September 13, 2011