Rick Perry fading after the last Republican debate

Texas Governor Rick Perry got hammered on the Fox News/Google stage last night. If someone were just tuning into the Republican Presidential contest for the first time last night, it might even have looked like Perry was the moderate on the stage. Mitt Romney came after Perry for supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants while Michele Bachmann continued her line of attack on Perry for supporting giving the HPV vaccine to young girls. These attacks put Perry on the defensive and forced him to defend positions he has taken outside of mainstream Republican orthodoxy. That’s not a good thing for the candidate who is trying to be THE conservative in this race.

The press has been nearly unanimous in labeling Perry the loser in last night’s debate.  Politico/Yahoo wonders if this is the beginning of the end for Perry, saying that Perry’s performance will convince Republicans that the Governor is “not ready for the big leagues.” Chris Cillizza also suggests that Perry is not ready for prime time, putting him in the “losers” column, while Romney sits comfortably on top of the “winners” column.

And it wasn’t just his opponents attacks that took a toll on Perry. The candidate also made some unforced errors. Perry showed that he had never given any thought to national security issues. He was asked about what he would do if Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal fell into Taliban hands. Even though this is kind of a ridiculous debate question, requiring only boilerplate filler about always being prepared and acting decisively, Perry was clearly shaken and caught off-guard. He rambled his way through a “response” that trailed over to our weapons sales to India and Taiwan and was just painful to watch.

Romney and Perry are the two front-runners in this race for the Republican Presidential nomination, so Perry’s bad performance is good for Romney, right? Actually, several commentators have a different take on the  dynamics of this contest. Even though Perry was not acquitted himself very well lately, he is the most credible conservative in the race. Romney gives clear and crisp answers to the questions while Perry often fumbles around and misses opportunities, but conservatives don’t trust Romney.

Romney has an appearance problem. He’s only ever won one election in his life, but he comes across as the quintessential politician. His biggest accomplishment in his one term in political office is the health care plan that became the model for President Obama’s healthcare plan. He has a problem connecting on a personal level with Tea Partiers and conservative voters. The straight-shooting Gov. Perry has always been able to connect with the Republican Party’s base. He speaks their language in a way that Romney can never hope to.

The conservative base of the party wants a nominee they can be excited about. They haven’t really come to see Romney as that person. Perry, though, can fill the mold. As long as the questions about Perry’s candidacy don’t become too serious, the conservatives can carry him through. He has wide latitude for mistakes just because Republicans don’t seem to want to give this to Romney.

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  1. September 30th, 2011

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