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GOP debate: Did we witness Perry’s Dean Scream moment?

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’s ritual
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?

Romney’s constancy
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.

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 11/10/2011 - 11:24 am.

    I don’t watch the republican debates, but wait to read about them. Too much time spent on repetitive, scripted answers. But when I have watched other debates or other questioning of candidates in news programs, the candidates often answer uncomfortable or difficult questions with a deflection to a point they do want to talk about (democrats do it too). I wish the moderators or questioners would keep on asking until they get an answer–which in a debate they can’t do anyway for lack of time. But I see it on PBS and in other places as well. It’s somehow embarrassing all around, but the candidates’ feet should be held to the fire until they answer.
    all these candidates in — how much time? It is useless information for the most part–except possibly for how the candidates handle themselves, especially when they make a mistake.
    The debates started as a good idea, but I think they need to be rethunk to get a format where we could get actual answers.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/10/2011 - 12:15 pm.

    Best exchange of the evening:

    CRAMER: Mr. Speaker, how about to you, can corporations do both [be profitable and be able to create jobs]?
    GINGRICH: Sure. Look, obviously, corporations can and should do both. And what is amazing to me is the inability of much of our academic world and much of our news media and most of the people on Occupy Wall Street to have a clue about history.


    GINGRICH: In this town, Henry Ford started as an Edison Electric supervisor who went home at night and built his first car in the garage. Now, was he in the 99 percent or the one percent?
    Bill Gates drops out of college to found Microsoft. Is he in the one percent or the 99 percent?
    Historically, this is the richest country in the history of the world because corporations succeed in creating both profits and jobs, and it’s sad that the news media doesn’t report accurately how the economy works.


    BARTIROMO: Mr. Speaker — I’m sorry, but what is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?
    GINGRICH: What?
    BARTIROMO: What is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?
    GINGRICH: I love humor disguised as a question. That’s terrific.
    I have yet to hear a single reporter ask a single Occupy Wall Street person a single rational question about the economy that would lead them to say, for example, “Who is going to pay for the park you are occupying if there are no businesses making a profit?”


  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2011 - 12:19 pm.

    My only complaint is the the comparison is a little off. Dean’s scream was a non-event blown into a game changer. Perry on the other hand was standing in front of a national audience attempting to make a substantive policy argument that he would actually eliminate three entire government agencies, and could only remember two of them. This is not a novice politician, not his first time in front of cameras or on the debate trail. His proposal is spooky enough but his performance cannot be ignored. We’ve already had one village idiot from Texas for president.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    I’m sure Romney appreciates all the support he’s been getting from the leftist media, but he did himself no favors last night.

    The fact is, the more I see Romney, the easier it is to superimpose ALGORE’s face on his body.

    Cain, on the other hand, stood out. Everyone was waiting to see how he’d handle “the question”, and he hit it out of the park. I honestly don’t think Ronald Reagan could have done a better job.

    Further, while I haven’t been a big fan of 999, Herman’s masterful elucidation made it sound perfect; especially when set against Romney’s stale support of the status quo.

    Given that the facts which are emerging from the backgrounds of his known accusers are killing their credibility, I think that by this time next week, the only people that will be dragging the harassment issue’s cold carcass around will be leftists and Mitt Romney supporters…in some cases one and the same.

  5. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/10/2011 - 01:19 pm.

    I completely agree with Ginny. I suspect that if a moderator wouldn’t move on until a straight answer was given, that moderator wouldn’t be back. But it’s too bad. Would be nice to see. Jesse Ventura, whatever else may be said, was a refreshing exception. He gave direct answers, including sometimes taking 1-2 seconds to say “no” or “yes” and declining to pivot to a talking point. I always thought people appreciated it, and that it played a part in his upset win.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/10/2011 - 02:34 pm.

    Since the Republicans have descended into a “fact free” zone a few years back when they decided to make their own history, the current state of affairs in the Republican field should have been expected.

    What do a few sexual harassment complaints mean in a “fact free” zone? After all, if you can discount 99% of climate sciences, what does it matter if what Perry believe makes no sense? What are “flip-flops” if there are no facts? Who cares what 9-9-9 will result in if you can simply assert that it will do what you say it will? What does it matter if there really aren’t 57,000 terrorists crossing the border into the US every year? It’s all being said and applauded vigorously–who are the voters to disagree?

    Taking positions that are counter to all rational evidence can only be done by a series of cranks and crackpots that we see before us. To do it for years means that serious delusion is required.

    The funny thing is, these people really think that they can convince the middle and left end of the political spectrum to vote for them.

    Now that’s REAL SERIOUS CRAZY.

  7. Submitted by Kevin Whalen on 11/10/2011 - 02:53 pm.

    Funny how politicians (and Mr. Tester) can remember some historical details, but forget others. Mr. Gingrich didn’t care to mention that Henry Ford gained much of his success by paying his workers an above-average wage– $6 a day. Gingrich also conveniently omits an important piece of irony: the same Ford Motor Co. that put so many people to work in the early twentieth century has moved much of its production abroad so that it can pay workers poorly and grant them fewer rights on the job. And, voila, Detroit isn’t so great anymore. Ford execs are wealthier, and cars aren’t any cheaper. Darn.

  8. Submitted by Colin Dunn on 11/10/2011 - 03:07 pm.

    Gingrich is the one ignorant of history if he is trying to pass those two anecdotes off as “our economy is great! anyone can make it!”

    It really is funny that he can point to TWO people and make a generalization about the economy of a nation of hundreds of millions of citizens.

    To buy Gingrich’s statement is to not critically look at REAL history: not the “greats” but people, social movements, institutions, and individuals who acted as lynchpins and focal points for others.

    In fact anybody with a knowledge of American history knows that social mobility was really only attainable for the masses between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. In those years, with well paying, union organized production jobs driving the economy, real family income doubled. People moved en mass from the lower to the middle classes.

    Now that we’ve moved away from building things and shed tens of millions of those well-paying production jobs, those of us in the middle class are sliding back into the lower classes. The jobs created today skew mostly to lower-paying service-industry work.

    Sure one or two poor people can become millionaires or billionaires, but most of us work hard where we are just to stay afloat. We work 2 or 3 jobs paying 12 or 15 bucks an hour (if we can get em) and get socked with high health insurance premiums–when we can get insurance through work–and higher income tax percentages than our wealthy co-denizens.

    So there’s your American history Mr. Gingrich. I am so damn tired of these political blow-hards spewing their sound-bite inanity.

  9. Submitted by r batnes on 11/10/2011 - 03:24 pm.

    So, Dennis…you feel the “exchange of the evening” was Gingrich avoiding answering the question by ridiculing it? It was a legitimate question that he had no answer for, yet decided to play to a crowd that only believes information from sources that validate their political ideology. Face facts…the only difference between this group of presidential hopefuls and clowns at the circus is that these folks didn’t ride into the center ring in the same tiny car together.

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/10/2011 - 03:27 pm.

    Remember, Al Gore won the last election.
    And I agree with you; Cain is out of the ballpark. In fact, he’s off of the planet!

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/10/2011 - 04:04 pm.

    heh. I think you fellows are making Newt’s point for him.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2011 - 04:48 pm.

    Henry Ford gained much of his success by attracting an intelligent and hard-working workforce. He did that in part, by paying his workers an above-average wage–$6 a day.

    In exchange for that generous wage, FOMOCO workers put out the effort necessary to make the whole thing work.

    Ford Motor Company would have been bankrupt before it’s first anniversary if it had been forced to pay $6 for one man to hold the part while another $6 man turned the wrench to accomodate “trade rules” whle yet another $6 man, acting as “shop steward” stood by to make sure those rules were enforced.

    Different time, different people, no union.

  13. Submitted by Howard Miller on 11/10/2011 - 06:06 pm.

    It wasn’t the unionized part of Detroit’s old big three automakers who designed inferior cars relative to their competitors, causing the industry to lose so much market share. It wasn’t union bosses insisting that parts cost mattered more than parts quality. GM was managed into the ground, with the union as enablers, but not the leading problem. Unions vary, some good some bad, just like management.

  14. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/10/2011 - 07:26 pm.

    Mr. Swift–

    I suggest that you talk to someone who was at ‘the battle of the bridge’; I have.

    From the Detroit News:
    ” Henry Ford had said he would never cave in to the unions. He didn’t like their politics and he wanted total control over his company and his workers. He had run the company paternalistically and many workers still had his picture over their mantles. He also ruled by fear: Harry Bennett, his right hand man, hired spies and thugs (many were ex-cons), 2,000 of them, to man his “Service Department.” He ran the Rouge Plant like a Central European police state. Anti-union groups were encouraged, workers were urged to spy on each other and feared losing their jobs if they participated in any union discussions. ”

  15. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/11/2011 - 07:12 am.


    “Herman Cain has spent his life living and working all over the country — Indiana, Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Washington, D.C. — but never in Chicago.

    So it’s curious that all the sexual harassment allegations against Cain emanate from Chicago: home of the Daley machine and Obama consigliere David Axelrod.”

    This is Obama for U.S. Senate redux

  16. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/11/2011 - 07:40 am.

    (#11) Dennis, Dennis, Dennis….

    Blathering about Chicago doesn’t make it so.

    The restaurant association is located in DC, just like virtually every other national association. Harassment occurred in DC. Settlement was made in DC.

    Like I said above, repeating crazy stuff day after day requires a high level of delusion.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/11/2011 - 08:27 am.

    Right, Paul. Henry Ford treated his workers well and kept (at that time) Communist union thugs from infiltrating his successful business….

    So what’s your point?

    Neal, the women that have shown their faces have been discredited. The others are spouting nothing more than unfounded accusations from hired mouthpieces.

    Cain has won this round.

  18. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/10/2011 - 09:06 pm.

    These CNBC moderators were tough, which hopefully will raise the bar for these debates.

    @4 Mr. Cain settled with accusers, twice. Two of the women have been named. It’s, what, 5 women now? That’s not a lapse in judgment. It’s a pattern.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/11/2011 - 08:50 am.

    Don’t fret too much Thom and Dennis. Maybe someday you’ll live the dream of starvation wages just like the workers in Bangladesh. Hope springs eternal.

  20. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/11/2011 - 09:05 am.

    I just Googled Santorum again, to make sure nothing has changed.

    @2 Mr Gingrich complains about having only 30 seconds to talk about health care when Maria offers him all the time he needs, he says “Oh I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair to the others.” That’s why you only get 30 seconds. I think Ms. Bartiromo showed us what Newt is all about..

    Herman Cain’s metaphor about the need to put fuel in the engine of the economy-isn’t that commonly used to pitch public-sector spending? It seems to me Cain’s overall strategy is to bluster, and if someone brings up a good objection to one of his ideas, accuses him of sexual harassment, or whatever, then bluster harder. This seems to be working. He continues the most interesting book tour in history.

  21. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/11/2011 - 09:31 am.

    …the women that have shown their faces have been discredited…


    Discredited by anyone other than those drinking the Republican “Krazy Koolade”?

    Fine, hitch your wagon to Cain. Carry his water. Excuse his shortcomings. Excuse his flip-flops and flubs. Excuse the holes in the 9-9-9 plan. Pretend he will be a credible face from America to the world. Hey, how about Bachmann or Palin for his running mate–that way you’ll get the minority and women’s votes.

    Oddly enough, it all comes down to the election in November. And it comes down to convincing non-Republican primary voters.

    Ahh, I recall they days when Clinton was excoriated for his philandering ways. Even getting an impeachment trial for lying about it. I remember years of rooting about in the recesses of history in Arkansas. It should be an interesting time for Mr. Cain as his own history comes forward, bit by bit. But at least with Clinton, there was consent…

  22. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/11/2011 - 09:34 am.

    Perry had planned to drop out of the race,
    but then he forgot to.

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