Sifting through a hundred assessments and the consensus –indeed, almost a 100% consensus among the professional pundits– is that both Romney and Perry had good nights though Romney’s was a little better because Perry stumbled on Social Security (“doubled down” is how the New York Times put it). All the other candidates played their parts and almost certainly delighted their core constituencies, but the Williams-Harris moderator duo set up the Perry-Romney two-man race at the start and cemented it throughout. (Politico’s John Harris also appeared to have set up a video ambush of Romney which fizzled when the technology failed.)
It was odd that, four days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the war on terror took up so little time. I spent most of my time with Rick Perry yesterday (transcript here) on that and related subjects, and the emails following our conversation wanted more. Inevitably one of the debates will focus us there, but the debates scheduled for Florida will almost certainly take us back to Social Security again and again.
The good news for the GOP generally and the bad news for the president is that there was none of the oozing hostility that marked the 2008 GOP debates wherein the friction between John McCain and Mitt Romney and that between Romney and Mike Huckabee was a constant. The president has provided all of the candidates with a focus, and his epic incompetence mixed with endless self-regard makes it difficult for any Republican to lose sight of the real opponent.
Former Vice President Cheney, in a long interview covering many subjects including the events of 9/11, his relationship with Colin Powell and the management of the DoD (transcript here) offered some advice to the 2012 frontrunners based on his experience in the long, two-candidate race of 1976 between President Ford and Governor Reagan:
HH: Right now, it looks like a two person race between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. What advice do you give them both about making sure that at the end of this, the nominee isn’t too damaged to take on President Obama?
DC: Well, it helps to have a back channel established between the two campaigns in advance, early on, one that neither one’s going to violate. But if you’ve got something you want to say to the other camp, you’ve got a way to say it. And sometimes, I think that happens, especially when you get an old pro around who knows everybody. It’s a little tougher to do, I think, when you’ve got the two governors involved who, I don’t know how well they know each other, can be. They’re not all that close. But I think it’s basically a positive basis from which you can start, just by having a clear channel open, or when somebody gets off the reservation in one camp or the other. You can at least raise that quietly. You can’t do it with the press, you can’t do with the press involved in it. It just breaks down. It’s almost like sensitive back channel negotiations between two important countries. But it’s not a bad way to proceed.
Read the whole thing. The Vice President returns next week for part 2 of our conversation.
Except for Brian Williams “Catholic” question to Rick Santorum last night, the much-commented on subject of faith did not come up. I asked Rick Perry about the attacks on his faith yesterday, and Article VI blog’s John Schroeder was not satisfied with the result.
I think all of the candidates have got to be ready to woodshed the secular absolutists of the MSM for trying to drive religious wedges into the American political debate.
“It is fine to ask a candidate what the general outlines of their faith in God are, and to get some biography on where they grew up and what church they attend,” any of them should say. “But the left is on a mission to discredit faith, to force God from the public square, and to build a connection between faith and extremism, between faith and irrationality.”
“And that is religious bigotry,” he or she should conclude, “and religious bigotry has never had an esteemed place in America and certainly not in America’s fifth estate. I hope that doesn’t change this year though it seems in some places, it has.”