I was only able to watch the last half of the Republican debate tonight, so I will offer just a few observations:
1) I don’t understand why Republican candidates agree to be questioned more or less exclusively by Democrats. We saw all the usual biases in the questions–doesn’t your heart bleed for 11 million illegal immigrants, how can you sleep at night when your state has capital punishment, if the world isn’t perfect doesn’t that prove we need more government? Sometimes the candidates responded well, but it is a form of political suicide to constantly cede the terms of the debate to your opponents.
2) For some reason, most of the candidates didn’t seem on form tonight. But the most disappointing had to be Rick Perry. I’m not talking about his early exchanges with Mitt Romney about jobs, which I missed. I attribute zero importance to that argument. For governors to take credit for creating jobs is more or less like Obama taking credit for killing bin Laden. That doesn’t mean their records are irrelevant, obviously, but rather that they need to be viewed with a minimal degree of understanding and sophistication.
What bothered me was Perry’s general inarticulateness. During the portion I heard, he didn’t answer any question crisply or persuasively. When he was asked about his global warming skepticism, he should have been prepared to hit it out of the park. Instead, he meandered guiltily like someone who didn’t know what he was talking about. If Perry wants to carve out climate change realism as an issue–something which I heartily endorse–he needs to invest the time necessary to be able to talk about the issue intelligently. The fact that he hasn’t done so casts doubt on his seriousness as a candidate.
3) By default, tonight’s winner was Mitt Romney. He was at least as coherent as anyone on the stage, and he got to talk a little bit, at least, about his own comprehensive economic recovery program. He came across as a competent leader. This year, that should be more than enough. Still, as a Republican it is hard not to be at least a little disappointed at tonight’s performances.