GOP debate watchers have witnessed a bizarre dynamic over the past few weeks. Herman Cain is fabulous in debates, which causes him to rise in the polls, yet he is terrible in interviews with the press and ends up having to dig himself out of holes he creates in them. Whether the topic is abortion, negotiating with terrorists, the right of return, Cain flubs and then has to spend the next several days recovering.
Rick Perry suffers the exact opposite dynamic. In one-on-one press interviews he is strong, confident and routinely articulates complex policy in fine detail. But get him on the debate stage and Katy bar the door, you know there’s a problem coming. Tonight, it was his forgetting one of the three government departments he would eliminate as president. He recovered and remembered later in the debate, but by then the damage had been done and he had run into the ditch in yet another prime time debate. The moment was on YouTube at warp speed.
Which is a pity, because on policy Perry has offered strong plans and he has a record to match those plans. His energy plan, flat tax, the $10k degree that demands efficiency at universities — all of it makes sense. Based on experience, it’s obvious that the governor of Texas’ job history is the closest match to knowing and having what it takes to meet the demands of the presidency. Yet Don Hewitt’s modern invention, the TV debate, could prevent those plans from getting past the primary stage.
Who won tonight? Newt Gingrich showed once again that his policy knowledge and ability to connect that knowledge to the here and now is unmatched. Mitt Romney avoided calamity and despite the holes in his record, presented himself as a plausible president. Herman Cain delivered the platitudes as well as anyone can and earned himself some applause lines and, perhaps most importantly, moved on from the tumult of the past week. “Sneak a-taxes” was a pretty good line we’re likely to hear more of, paired with those three numbers that keep coming up.
Newt Gingrich probably benefits most from tonight’s performance. He was feisty with moderator Maria Bartiromo when she asked him to name what the media is reporting inaccurately, and his line “I am for fixing our health, not our health bureaucracy” was strong. He is likely to be the next not-Romney flavor of the week. With 8 weeks to go until the votes start, there’s still time for that flavor to wear out and yet another one to rise up.
Update: Perry in the spin room — “I’m sure glad I had my boots on because I sure stepped in it out there.”