Watching the replay of the debate makes clear that the race is back to being a Romney v. Perry showdown. Herman Cain’s likeability cannot deflect close scrutiny of his economic plan or compensate for a campaign experience gap that leads to unforced errors like the Gitmo one noted below, which while already corrected, put the former CEO’s inexperience on display again.
There’s a lot of focus online and in the post-debate shows on the immigration exchanges, but Governor Perry’s decision to throw the old and discredited lawn care company charge against Governor Romney seems at best an odd choice, and one that simply will not go down well with GOP voters used to seeing such attacks peddled by the MSM. What that specific attack did do is create enough heat to leave the definite impression that there are really only two choices on the stage. It was the most fiery exchange of the evening, and the one that has already replayed and replayed across the screen. A Romney-Perry moment like that makes it a Romney-Perry debate which in turns defines it as a Romney-Perry campaign.
The second tier of candidates made a huge miscalculation in turning their fire on Romney before dispatching Perry completely from the field. Rick Santorum, especially, seemed to believe that his long-shot path went straight through Romney when there are in fact two obstacles before him in the persons of Herman Cain and Rick Perry. The former Pennsylvania senator chose to turn his fire on Romney and not Perry and ended up with Perry walking off the stage with a second lease on a campaign.
Mitt Romney delivered many great answers, some good ones, and a flat response here and there, but the pro-Romney audience clearly helped him over a rough patch or two, and the immigration exchange did not hurt him so much as fluster him momentarily. His very strong answers on religion and the economy are general election practice sessions.
So, Rick Perry got what he needed, a second chance to be the “not Romney” candidate. (I hesitate to disagree with VDH, but I think the good professor underestimates how vital it was for Perry to be in the narrative even if not as a clear-cut winner. Whether it is enough to jump start the campaign contributions remains to be seen, but it was certainly enough to keep the Perry faithful working and digging for more cash from their friends and friends-of-friends.)
And Herman Cain got a bad blunder obscured long enough for his wise decision to recant to get made and publicized.