Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Romney Rises to Occasion in First Debate with Perry

The most important thing I noticed is that Romney is looking better than ever based on what I saw at the latest MSNBC Republican Primary debate with Brian Williams and some dorky guy from Politico - John F. Harris, Editor-in-Chief. (Really, it is not fair to put Harris on the same stages as Brian Williams. It's like watching a high school ballerina perform next to someone from American Ballet Theatre.)

The debate started off with a quick round of back and forth between Gov. Romney and Gov. Perry and Romney clearly demonstrated that years of experience in national debates pays off. Romney had clearly anticipated Perry's answers and responses and created a level-headed, common-sense image that made Perry look awkward and overpowered. Romney also looked more rested. Perry looked as if he had been up all night fighting those fires in TX himself.

As a reporter, I would say that the key exchange took place after Gov. Perry attacked Gov. Romney's record of job creation in Massachusetts. In a Reaganesque moment, Romney to interjected "listen, wait a second" as the moderators tried to move on, Here, Romney played his cards well by getting a break for himself early in the debate. Moreover, his comments had a grain of truth.

"States are different," Romney said. "Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right to work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn't believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, well, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet."

What got my attention is how natural, trustworthy and earnest Romney looked as he delivered those lines. In contrast, Perry looked overly aggressive and wooden as he released the line that "Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt."

Romney took the punch and then shot back: "Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor."

"That's not correct," said Perry.

"Yes, that is correct," said Romney.

In all this rapid fire exchange, the inexperienced John F. Harris of Politico looked overwhelmed. Meanwhile, the experienced MSNBC moderator Brian Williams, drew on his vast television comfort level to quip: "Nice to see everybody came prepared for tonight's conversation."

As far as I could tell, the above exchange highlighted the considerable value of previous experience with presidential primary level debating. It is not a natural talent. It is an acquired skill that gets better with practice. Accordingly, my prediction is that Perry stumbled a little tonight, because of his inexperience in debates, and that Romney probably made himself some new friends and supporters. Perry is a steep challenge to Romney and Romney rose to the challege. In reaction to this debate, I'm expecting Perry to stall a little and to Romney to flip up quite a bit.

All in all, however, I'm still supporting Gov. Perry. Nevertheless, I think Romney had a good answer for how his investment career created net jobs for Americans. I know this was an issue with Carly Fiorina in the last CA Senate campaign whose business expertise came off as almost hostile to the needs of workers. I'm also sensitive to the fact that polls show Romney clearly beating Obama. I like that Perry is okay suggesting Obama is a "liar." He is. I also appreciated Romney's new strength and decisiveness. Since I last paid attention to Romney, it appears he is getting a better message that makes sense by suggesting Obama is a nice guy, "who doesn't have a clue" about how to turn around the economy. I think Romney's comments about Obama being a pay phone guy in a smart phone world are quite compelling and remind us that Obama is not that smart and hasn't produced results the American people expect. If anything, Obama is the rigid unchanging ideologue who doesn't seem normal, while Romney looks like the sort of flexible guy who can learn from mistakes and produce positive results.

As a political scientist, I'm reminded of how much appearances matter in presidential debates. In the future, Gov. Perry should work harder at the debates. He needs to be more rested and relaxed ahead of time - no matter what is happening with his workload as an active TX governor. I'm also reminded at the extent to which success in debates is simply a matter of practice, rehearsal, and experience.

Finally, as someone who knew the young Marxist Obama, I was gratified to see Speaker Newt Gingrich come straightout and criticize bureaucratic socialism. I'm going a rally for Gov. Perry in Newport Beach tomorrow a.m. If I get a chance to say hello to Gov. Perry face-to-face, I'll share the same news I shared with Speaker Gingrich: the Obama I knew was a radical revolutionary looking to overthrow the U.S. capitalist system. In this context, however, I was proud to see Gingrich lash out at the mainstream media for seeking to divide Republicans and distract attention from Obama's dangerous weaknesses and failed economic policies. The mainstream media ignored my warnings about Obama's commitment and ties to Marxist socialist thought in 2008. They do not deserve any protection from the Republican candidates given the misery they inflicted on the U.S. by not fully vetting Obama in early 2008 or fully researching him in the summer of 2008. I expect that anti-Obama activists will also benefit - as has Gov. Romney - from increased experience at the national level.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

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