Round Two: Rick Perry and the Seven Dwarfs

They say it ain't over 'til it's over or the fat lady sings at least a dozen times, finally making all the high notes in Aida and La Traviata in succession. Nevertheless -- after only his second debate -- things do look pretty good for Rick Perry.

And consider before this Tampa debate he was already twelve points ahead of nearest rival Mitt Romney, according to its sponsor's (CNN) own poll.

So it's no surprise that most of Monday's affair -- which mostly reprised the same questions from last week's Reagan Library debate (this all could get pretty tedious fast) -- was a game of "Everybody on Rick" with the Texas governor, perhaps in deference to his state's proximity to Mexico, as the designated piƱata.

Well, not quite everybody. Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain declined to attack Perry. (I will try to explain that later.) But Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and, of course, Romney did their best to slam Perry at every opportunity, sometimes remembering, seemingly as an afterthought, to throw in an unkind word for Barack Obama, as if the Texas governor and the not the president was the incumbent.

The five, however, did their Perry dissing in different ways. The first three -- Huntsman, Bachmann and Santorum -- I would classify as the soreheads. They are all doing miserably in the polls. Huntsman and Santorum always were. They are both currently at 2%, tied with a generic "Someone else" and 2 points behind "None/No one." (No surprise here with Santorum who, when last facing the electorate, lost reelection in his home state of Pennsylvania by 18 points.) Who, besides their wives, really knows why they are running?

Bachmann, too, once flying high, has herself sunk to a mere 4% (tied with "None/No one") since Perry entered the race. No wonder she's sore at the Texan. She took after him, as did Santorum, during the Monday debate because some years ago Perry evidently tried by fiat to have high school girls vaccinated against cancer of the cervix. Perry admitted this approach was a mistake and this whole thing had apparently been rehashed ad infinitum by Kay Bailey Hutchison in her recent, ill-fated run against Perry for the Texas gubernatorial nomination, but never mind. To Bachmann and Santorum this attempt to prevent cancer, whether ill-founded or not, was a form of child molestation or something. The more they went on about this, the more rabid, and frankly scary, they sounded.

But they never sounded quite so nutsy as Huntsman when he accused Perry of "treason" for not building a border fence. Either the Utah governor is suffering from a cognitive disorder or, more likely, he deliberately misunderstood Perry's position on the border. But he certainly seemed over-heated. Of course, what Huntsman was really trying to do was define Perry as the dangerous one because he had used the word treason in association with Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. But the word flew back in his face.

All of this was -- I would guess almost deliberately -- grist for Perry's mill. Which leads me to the man who is putatively the Texas governor's great rival -- Mitt Romney. My advice to Mitt is that he start rereading his Mark Twain. Ironically, it is the New England governor who is being played for the rube here. He allowed himself to be drawn into the most obvious of traps by again accusing Perry of being excessive in his use of the term "Ponzi scheme" with respect to Social Security. It would "scare" seniors.

What a setup that was. It took Perry about thirty seconds to explain that in no way would his plans to reform Social Security affect those currently or soon receiving it. Romney was left to explain his years of attacks on Social Security in which he called the program, well, close to a "Ponzi scheme." In fact, the brouhaha about the subject since last week's debate has led to numerous identifications of interesting people who have called SS a PS in the past. My favorite is Paul Samuelson, the very liberal Nobel Prize-winning author of my freshman economics textbook.

I will put aside Ron Paul, except to say that he was roundly (and quite properly) booed for his bizarre ahistorical assertions that jihad is our fault, and skip on to the aforementioned Gingrich and Cain. They didn't attack Perry because, in part at least, I think they suspect he is going to win and are acting accordingly. Gingrich is not particularly vice-presidential material but he would make a highly qualified secretary of State (a more interesting job than Fox news commentator, I would imagine). Cain supposedly has his eye on the Senate from Georgia. Although he might not need it, an assist from a President Perry would be extremely helpful.

All politics is local, as they say. Stay tuned.

Also read: "Gallup: Perry Still Leads, Romney Gains in Positive Vibes"