It’s hard to believe how recently it was and how strongly it was believed that Rick Perry was the frontrunner in the race for the Repub nomination for prez. Perry may yet recover. I don’t do predictions. But he did nothing to help himself at last night’s all-economy debate. He was mostly invisible and when he did have the floor, he was as bad as ever, and the current Perry buzz is around the question: “After another bad debate, Is Perry finished?”
Substantial elements of the Republican base are determined to find someone other than Mitt Romney to nominate for president. But whoever becomes the leader of the anybody-but-Romney ticket never seems to last. Donald Trump was a joke. Minnesota’s own Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann each had their moment as the designated Romney-slayer. Journalists who wrote wait-till-you-get-a-load-of-Jon-Huntsman pieces are a little embarrassed. Etc. Etc.
Last night was Herman Cain’s big moment. He is fun to watch and sticks out in the crowd with his sense of humor, his CEO-philosophizing, his knack for at least seeming to give specific answers when the others are dodging, and of course, his bold 9-9-9 tax plan.
(If you feel ready to focus on the details – and in many cases absence of detail – in the 9-9-9 plan, this piece by a serious Republican economic thinker will raise the right questions.)
Reading around the web this morning, I find the reviews are mixed as to how Cain did. But the punditocracy is unanimous that Romney continues to be the master of this domain. Not funny. Not likeable. Not excitable. But relatively coherent and presidential.
The idea of focusing an entire debate on the economy struck me as a good one, and I haven’t given up on the idea, but looking back on last night I don’t have a coherent understanding of what the Republican field wants to do to improve the – you know, what’s that thing? – the economy, other than make Barack Obama a one – term – president.
A few moments I noted during the debate:
Newt Gingrich wants to rehabilitate the charge that Obamacare includes “death panels.”
Bachmann still claims that Obama’s real secret plan — based on something she claims to have heard him mutter at a meeting — is to let Medicare collapse and be replaced by Obamacare for the seniors. Bachmann also said that being a federal tax lawyer is “what I do for a living.” Bachmann is 55 and spent four years as an IRS lawyer. Later, she said she spent her whole life in the private sector. Government lawyer, foster mother paid by the state, state senator, congresswoman.
Huntsman wants less invasive background checks on candidates for high government positions. (Huntsman’s line that when he heard Herman Cain had a 9-9-9, he thought it was the price of a pizza was a good gag. His other effort, to make a light reference to the recent round of Mormon-bashing, was a small disaster for him, but I give him credit for trying.)
Cain, who understands the importance of simplicity in marketing, faults Romney for having a 59-point plan on the economy, and suggested that Romney can’t name all the points. Romney’s reply that simple answers are nice but often inadequate, was an adult moment.
Here’s a taste of Andrew Sullivan’s live blog of the debate:
“8.11 pm. Gingrich wants to throw Chris Dodd and Barney Frank in jail. And then he’s railing against Ben Bernanke’s ‘secret power.’ Wow. You begin to see the entire alternative universe. The federal government created credit default swaps and the recession. So far, this is actually an interesting conflict between the liberal intelligentsia of Bloomberg and the WaPo meeting … well, aliens. The questions keep referring to a world that the candidates do not believe exists.”
Here’s Howard Kurtz with one of the more favorable reactions to Cain’s big night:
““The surprise of the evening was Herman Cain, and not just because he’s an able and colorful debater. The New Hampshire event cemented his status as a top-tier contender, as much of the conversation turned on his 9-9-9 plan, which includes a national sales tax. His rivals, with one eye on his surge in the polls, kept bringing up the plan. If you just dropped in from Mars, you’d assume the former pizza magnate was leading the field.”
And here’s Jonathan Chait with one of the less flattering reviews of Romney’s evening:
“Mitt Romney hewed to his constant strategy of turning every question into an over-the-top attack on President Obama, while limiting his exposure to unpopular policy proposals. Romney’s theory is that Republican primary voters are angry but uninformed and thus that the extreme conservatism they have displayed since 2009 reflects primal rage rather than any coherent worldview. He believes he can mollify them by satisfying their emotional animus toward Obama, while continuing to advocate policies that, in many cases, are identical to the president’s.
“Once again, Romney defended his Massachusetts health care plan by citing its reliance on private insurance, and the way it was designed to cover the uninsured without changing health care for the already-insured. This is exactly what Obama did, too. But, of course, by describing his plan in reasonable terms, Romney realizes that Republicans will conclude it must be different from the hated Obamacare, which is based on socialism and death panels. Romney’s contempt for his electorate continues to endear him to me.”