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10.18.11

Rick Screwed the Pooch

And Cain didn't do as badly as you think he did. Michelle Cottle on how the bloodletting in Vegas rejiggered the race. Plus, more Daily Beast contributors weigh in.

Ouch. This one is going to leave a mark.

Right out of the gate, tonight’s Republican showdown in Vegas was heated, personal, and unrelenting. The first 20 minutes were all about dog-piling on “It” candidate Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Then there was the group assault on Romneycare. And more than once the scene degenerated into a one-on-one shouting match between combatants looking to show that the other guy was not only a shameless liar but lacked all respect for the debate rules.

As one of the few viewers disappointed in Cain’s performance last time around, I thought the saucy pizza mogul looked marginally better tonight. Zippier. Pithier. At least when he was defending himself against the early onslaught. That said, once the other candidates moved on from talking about his tax plan, Cain largely faded from the scene. At no point did he do much to recapture the spotlight and make a real impression with his performance. Mike Huckabee he ain’t.

Once again, Newt Gingrich was in fine form—coming across as sensible, seasoned, and even statesmanlike. Not that this is what the pissed-off Republican base is looking for these days.

Depending on your sympathies, Rick Santorum looked like either a fired-up street-scrapper or a pesky ankle-biter, while Mitt looked either smoothly statesmanlike or soulless and unctuous.

Best Moments from Republican Debate

But I think we can all pretty much agree on one thing: Rick Perry screwed the pooch. The Texas governor looked flat-out awful, a combination of stiff, awkward, twitchy, and, now and again, homicidal. (Mitt should be glad Rick left his pistol at home tonight.) He ducked questions with all the grace of a rhino on rollerskates. When he did engage, his answers were garbled to the point of incomprehensibility. In pretty much every fight—whether he picked it or was involuntarily sucked in—he managed to look both smug and petulant. And what was going on with those mid-sentence pauses? Just watching him made me nervous, as though at any moment he might just decide to abandon his train of thought altogether and leave the stage.

Which, all things considered, might have been his best strategy.