Who won the Republican debate?
According to Jennifer Rubin, who writes the “Right Turn” conservative blog for the Washington Post, it was Karl Rove and Dick Cheney:
Neither was on the stage, but Karl Rove and Dick Cheney put the Social Security issue front and center. Earlier in the day, Rove said Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s language on Social Security is “toxic.” Meanwhile, Cheney disputed Perry’s claim that it is a “Ponzi scheme” and said we have to fix it and not dismantle it.
Perry is betting that the Republican party has become so radicalized that his extreme rhetoric is what the base wants to hear. He believes that every time he calls social security a “ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie,” he locks down votes on the right. He will concede the country-club wing of the party to Romney, knowing that it is only a third of the Republican vote–and he will go after the remaining two-thirds. Perry made no effort to soften his views last night, insisting ever more forcefully that young Americans will never see social security checks and that the program is a failure. Romney took him on: “You can’t say that social security is a failure. Our president has to be committed to saving social security.” When he was asked about Rove’s comment that Perry’s dismissal of social security could be toxic in a general election, Perry lost it. “Karl’s been over the top for a long time,” he said of the man who masterminded Perry’s first campaign for public office, in 1990. “I’m not responsible for Karl any more.” He practically snarled the words.
Not once did Perry try to moderate his comments; he went for the inflammatory effect every time. Climate change: “The science is not settled on this.” He was rebuked by Huntsman: “Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I’m saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science. We can’t run from mainstream conservative philosophy. We’ve got to win voters.”
The most extreme remark Perry made was not about an issue. It was about Barack Obama. Perry called him an “abject liar” for saying that the border is safe–a show of disrespect that, I suspect, has no precedent in the history of presidential debates. There is some evidence that Obama was correct. The following excerpt is from a story in HuffingtonPost.
It’s the U.S.-Mexico border, and even as politicians say more federal troops are needed to fight rising violence, government data obtained by The Associated Press show it actually isn’t so dangerous after all. Of course, there are different ways to measure safety.
The top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, according to a new FBI report. And an in-house Customs and Border Protection report shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.
The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives.
In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years. So far this year assaults are slightly up, but data is incomplete.
“The border is safer now than it’s ever been,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.
He said one factor is that with fewer jobs available amid the U.S. recession, illegal immigration has dropped. And responding to security concerns after 9-11, the Border Patrol has doubled the number of agents in the region since 2004.
Perry did do some things well. He engaged Romney on the jobs issue and got the better of the exchange. He just knows how to present a case better than Romney can. Romney talked way too fast, and it was hard to follow his points, especially about what he had done with his own company. Perry just said he had created a million jobs, and 95 percent were above minimum wage. He said the first thing he will do as president is grant a waiver from Obamacare for all fifty states. Probably his best answer was to the question about executions that had taken place on his watch. He was tough as nails when he said that people who came into Texas and killed our citizens would receive justice. Great stuff for primary voters, but independents will take away from this debate the overall impression that he is out of the mainstream on some fundamental issues, like social security, and on peripheral issues such as global warming and evolution.
The thing about Perry’s extreme comments that the mainstream media misses is that they aren’t gaffes. They are strategic attempts to lock down his constituency. I think he’s foolish to pick a fight over social security, but the same principle holds true. What the tea party is looking for is someone who is a fighter, who will carry the fight to Obama, and Rick Perry demonstrated last night that he is going to do just that.
Perry won the debate last night because he went into the debate as the frontrunner and nothing happened to change that. Huntsman challenged him a little on science, Romney challenged him a little on jobs, but in the end, Perry was clearly the focus of the debate. He didn’t alienate anyone on the stage, except maybe Romney, nor do anything that would keep of his current opponents from supporting him.