Wow. Watching the good folks at MSNBC run a Republican debate is like viewing a college football game refereed by the cast of The Munsters. It was such a strange scene that I kept waiting for Al Sharpton to amble on stage and place the candidates under citizen’s arrest.
The big question of the evening, of course, was whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry could put a noun and verb together in the same sentence. I will never understand why critics on the left feel compelled to depict anyone popular with conservatives as either a moron or a kook. As with other alleged dopes of yesteryear, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the expectations could not have been any lower for Governor Perry. So how did he do? Well, for his first outing on the national stage, he did just fine. From the outset he stirred things up. This was, for example, the first debate I can think of when anyone on stage had the guts to criticize Mitt Romney for anything. Perry did just that—and with gusto. He dismissed Karl Rove as basically a nut. He even threw an elbow at Ron Paul just for kicks. Overall he added a little sizzle to a group whose idea of cutting-edge humor involves Al Gore discovering the Internet and Obama’s overuse of teleprompters (so 2009).
The governor also had to fend off a good deal of incoming ammo—from Romney, from the MSNBC moderators, and from Mr. Paul, who seemed determined to depict his fellow Texan as some sort of unreformed pinko carrying moon beads and a bumper sticker reading “You Can’t Hug Your Kids With Nuclear Arms.” Congressman Paul lost me when he started promising 10-cent gasoline, said we didn’t need air-traffic controllers, and then attacked the Reagan record—in front of Reagan’s widow—at the Reagan library. (Uh, check, please.)
Mitt Rombot was, as usual, his earnest self. He performed solidly in an unusual role: no longer the most popular guy in the Republican primary. It’s now a two-man race with Perry and, from the looks of tonight’s forum, still anybody’s game.
As for the rest of the candidates, they didn’t offer many reasons to switch horses (or any reason, for that matter). They stand on the stage seemingly oblivious to the desperate measures needed to get into the top tier. Of the group, Newt Gingrich was surely the strongest. Whenever a question came to him, he took command. Too bad there weren’t that many questions sent his way. Then there was that nice-looking guy with the silver hair who kept talking for some reason. Before the debate, Chris Matthews asked of former governor Jon Huntsman, Esquire magazine’s favorite Republican, “Why is this guy even running?” That is a mystery that even Hercule Poirot might not be able to solve.