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Rick Perry’s days as the consensus frontrunner are ending

Rick Perry smiling as Mitt Romney walks from the podium after Thursday's debate.
REUTERS/Scott Audette
Rick Perry smiling as Mitt Romney walks from the podium after Thursday’s debate.

After last night’s Fox/Google/GOP prez debate, I feel like a glutton for punishment. Why do I come to each of these “Gong Show” episodes expecting to learn something? Sigh.

That being off my chest, my feeling is that Rick Perry’s days as the consensus frontrunner are ending. He had an awful night, mostly by reason of incoherence. The one-on-one, tit-for-for-tats with Mitt Romney were mismatches. Perry was flustered and looked weak. Romney was calm and looked in control, even though he’s recycling attack lines from the previous debate.

Perry, by the way, did have something that he was too tongue-tangled to communicate. He said, to Romney:

“As a matter of fact, between books, your hard copy book, you said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have — that’s Romneycare — given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out.”

The poor man couldn’t even come up with the word “hardcover.”

But the fact-checkers have clarified that indeed, between the hardcover and paperback editions of his book, “No Apology,” Team Romney removed a line, referring to Romneycare, that read: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.”

Perry’s answer to what he would do if the Pakistani nukes fell into the hands of the Taliban — he said we need to improve U.S. relations with India — was a not-ready-for-commander-in-chief disaster.

I watched the post-game coverage on Fox, which led off with the usual Frank Luntz focus group of likely GOP primary voters who had just watched the debate. Perry didn’t have a friend in the room. One man, reacted specifically to Perry’s statement that anyone who opposed his policy of granting in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants is “heartless.” The man focus groupie said that as a conservative, he’s sick of being accused of heartlessness.

Rick Santorum got the non-sequitur award for his statement about why he would restore the former don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for the military treatment of gay and lesbian soldiers. Santorum said he wanted to back to the old policy — which, of course, includes the policy of kicking gays out of the military if their orientation becomes known — because “sex is not an issue” where the military is concerned. Huh? (The booing in the hall when the video played of a gay soldier asking the question was the low point for the night for the audience.)

As MinnPost teammate Devin Henry emphasized, Michele Bachmann was a non-factor last night and gave one of her classic non-answers when asked about her disastrous the-vaccine-caused-retardation moment after the last debate. She is so unable to retract or apologize that she is stuck claiming that she bears no responsibility for repeating on national TV something that a total stranger told her about the side effects of a drug (which, by the way, has no such proven side effect).

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson got off the line of the night: “My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.”

Although ABC found he had stolen the joke and Johnson confessed he got it from a gag writer. Shocking.

Johnson, like Bachmann, promises to balance the budget immediately upon taking over the Oval Office, but unlike Bachmann, he gave a shocking detail about the kind of cuts that would be necessary. Johnson called for a 43 percent reduction in military spending.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Nathan Roisen on 09/23/2011 - 11:09 am.

    I’ve thought all along that Rick Perry would be the flavor-of-the-week with Republicans, just like Bachmann, Gingrich, Trump…just like Bobby Jindal or the Bush cousin or Marco Rubio if you want to go back a couple of years.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/23/2011 - 11:36 am.

    Hmmm. Mrs. Bachmann remains an embarrassment, Mr. Perry’s “Elmer Gantry” roots are beginning to show, Mr. Santorum, who has built an entire career on the issue of sexual orientation, laughably suggests that “sex is not an issue” in the military, the “conservative” audience believes that sexual bigotry trumps serving your country, and Mr. Romney is “tweaking” the text of his book so as not to offend those people waving guns over there to the right by suggesting that maybe they need health care coverage, too.

    Really? THIS is the alternative to Barack Obama that’s being offered? Sigh.

    I’ve been inclined toward Mr. Huntsman (if I had to vote for a Republican) but Johnson’s comment about military spending – that single item would go a long, long way toward “fixing” the structural problems with our national budget – might make me a Johnson convert.

    If I had to vote for a Republican.

    Something I’m not likely to do in the current political environment.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/23/2011 - 11:39 am.

    Facinating and deeply informative insights as usual Eric, with one exception; you forgot to mock Perry’s tie.


  4. Submitted by James Stout on 09/23/2011 - 12:23 pm.

    Mr Perry was never a consensus frontrunner. He has always been a rabble-rouser, appealing to the lowest common (and in his case, very common) denominator. He appeals to people who, in H.L. Mencken’s classic phrase, are ‘uncorrupted by indoor plumbing’.

    Mr Johnson’s offer to cut defense spending by 43% is interesting. Since we spend more on defense than the next seven countries combined, would that mean we only spend as much as the next three or so combined? Probably still more than we need to provide adequate defense, but it is a start.

  5. Submitted by Roy Everson on 09/23/2011 - 01:42 pm.

    Republicans crucify each other for any scintilla of humanitarianism– tuition for aliens, health care reform, mandates to innoculate. But when their actions result in the deaths of innocents, the decline into poverty of their constituents, degradation of the environment, poor education systems — they get a pass. What a world they live in.

  6. Submitted by Lance Groth on 09/23/2011 - 01:47 pm.

    It seems the GOP is determined to rescue Mr. Obama from his public image problems and hand him the election by running his gaggle of clowns. All that’s missing are the miniature cars and tossing candy to the audience.

    Huntsman is the only serious candidate and like Mr. Schoch, if I had to vote repub, I’d pick him. But, the TP won’t have him, so no danger there.

    As for comment #3, Mr. Swift, your flippant comment remark dialog coming from the right these days. Thanks for playing, you represent your side well.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/23/2011 - 01:55 pm.

    How much of the defense budget goes to veteran support costs (VA, etc)?

  8. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 09/23/2011 - 02:26 pm.

    Defense department and VA are two separate, cabinet level departments. I’m pretty sure zero defense department money goes to VA.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/23/2011 - 07:05 pm.

    You’re right, but defense spending and the defense department are two different things.
    Actually, the last line in Eric’s column referred to _military_ spending; not defense.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2011 - 09:17 am.

    I hope Eric is right. If I hadn’t seen G.W. Bush get elected twice ( well maybe once ), I wouldn’t be worried. But Obama doesn’t seem to have a clue and for some reason these people seem to like to vote for these idiots from Texas.

  11. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/24/2011 - 10:03 am.

    Sounds like Christie is the great white hope.

  12. Submitted by will lynott on 09/24/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    I’ve been saying for months that it’s going to be Romney–that is, unless the Rs are suicidal, a possibility that cannot be ruled out.

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/25/2011 - 09:28 am.

    Will Ferrell will do a nice job of portraying Mr. Perry in a soon to be announced stage production. ;^)

    In many ways, Perry himself comes off as a character actor portraying someone who is running for President.

  14. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/25/2011 - 01:33 pm.

    Will the last one leaving the Republican party turn out the lights?

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