Gov. Rick Perry struggling to recall the three federal agencies he would eliminate during Wednesday night’s debate.
Rick Perry’s cringeworthy moment during last night’s GOP candidates’ debate may become the Dean Scream moment of this year’s nomination race.
I mean something very specific by that analogy. Howard Dean’s famous howl occurred on the night after he had just lost the Iowa caucuses after blowing a huge lead in the polls. It wasn’t the cause of his political demise, because his demise occurred first. But the video is so weird and painfully entertaining and was played so often that it has become embedded as the cause.
Perry’s weird and painfully entertaining moment may become similarly legendary by mistake. After a series of horrible debate performances that turned Perry from frontrunner to also-ran, the one last night may be remembered (falsely) as the one that did him in.
(In case you somehow haven’t heard about it, Perry announced that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies, then named two, then froze and tried for 30 seconds or so to remember the third one even as other candidates offered him possible choices. He finally gave up, admitted he couldn’t think of the third one — it turned out to be the Department of Energy — and ended with “Sorry. Oops.”)
But let’s move on.
I love the idea of candidate debates. But they almost always disappoint, and this one was no different. Too many candidates. Time limited answers. Recitation of familiar talking points. Gotcha questions. The over-importance of visuals. Etc.
Last night was the 10th debate of this season and there are three more scheduled yet this month. Yes, this month.
Leaving Cain alone
One question, heading into this one, which was sponsored by CNBC and dedicated to economic issues, was whether the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain — which had taken over coverage of the whole campaign for 10 days — could really be set aside for an evening.
Answer: yes, they can. One question about it to Cain, which he deflected. One offer to Mitt Romney to see if he wanted to criticize Cain, which he declined to do. The studio audience booed both questions. And it never came up again. I still can’t tell whether Cain’s candidacy can survive, but there is a dynamic at work here that the mainstream commentariat doesn’t seem to understand.
On the other hand, Cain seemed to make no other impact on the debate, except to continue asserting that his 9-9-9 tax plan is the answer to every problem.
Newt Gingrich can’t take what he needs. If that sentence makes little sense, consider:
Gingrich has made a trademark out of going after the questioners themselves for asking stupid questions (which amounts to going after “the media”) once every debate. The crowds seem to love it.
Last night, every candidate was asked for a 30-second answer to the question: If you succeed in repealing Obamacare (as every candidate pledges to do) what will you put in its place?
Gingrich denounced the question as “absurd.”
GINGRICH: “To say in 30 seconds what you would do with 18 percent of the economy, life and death for the American people, a topic I’ve worked on since 1974, about which I wrote about called ‘Saving Lives and Saving Money’ in 2002, and for which I founded the Center for Health Transformation, is the perfect case of why I’m going to challenge the president to seven Lincoln-Douglas-style three-hour debates with a timekeeper and no moderator, at least two of which ought to be on health care so you can have a serious discussion over a several-hour period that affects the lives of every person in this country.”
Leaving aside all the braggadocio, there’s something to Gingrich’s complaint, but it has little to do with health care. In all of these debates, the “long” answers are 60 seconds and the short ones are 30 seconds. This is about too many candidates, too little total time, too much grandstanding and mostly about an assumption about the audience’s attention span in the Age of the Tweet – an assumption that is probably more correct than incorrect. But Gingrich has plenty of other options for giving longer answers. Give a speech, write a book, go on the Sunday talk shows where you are the only guest, post your full answer on your website, etc. And all of these are done.
In this case, the questioner, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo (who generally did an excellent job as moderator) wasn’t flustered by Gingrich’s attack on her absurdity. As follows:
BARTIROMO: Would you like to — would you like to try to explain in simple speak to the American people what you would do after you repeal the president’s health care legislation?
GINGRICH: In 30 seconds?
BARTIROMO: Take the time you need, sir. Take the time you need.
GINGRICH: I can’t take what I need. These guys will gang up on me …
Gingrich can’t take what he needs because the other candidates will object. Really?
It does seem that Gingrich may be due to get his turn at being the chief alternative to Mitt Romney. I don’t know why, but Rick Santorum seems fated to never get a turn. But who knows?
CNBC’s John Harwood decided to squeeze Romney on the flip-flop theme. He described what he felt was Romney’s ever-changing position on whether he supported or opposed the decision to use federal funds to bail out the big U.S. automakers.
Romney started by trying to explain, as he often must, how his position on the proper relationship between the government and the auto industry has actually been more consistent than it might appear. But then he switched to an overall claim of “steadiness and constancy” based on staying with his wife and his religion. (Maybe he is preparing for a late charge from the thrice-married Gingrich.) It went like this:
ROMNEY: “I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you are going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I have been married to the same woman for 25 — excuse me, I will get in trouble, for 42 years. I have been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years.”
I call that kinda weird as an answer to a question about federal government-auto industry relations, but what the hey.
Time Magazine has a transcript of the debate here.
The Daily Beast has a collection of short clips of the high/low points here.