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September 02, 2011

Perry's Aggressive Debate Style, And Why He Should Avoid That

Perry's previous debate hits are discussed at NRO.

Perry shouldn't do this:

In 2002, for instance, Perry faced businessman Tony Sanchez in the general election. At the start of their debate, the governor played it safe: He mostly ignored Sanchez’s swipes and listed his accomplishments with a pleasant, steady smile.

When a panelist queried Sanchez about a bank of his that was under investigation, Sanchez asserted, “There were two federal judges and three federal agencies who said management and directors weren’t involved [in the wrongdoing]. . . . So I feel very good.”

“Mr. Sanchez, you shouldn’t feel good,” a solemn Perry replied, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t feel good when the federal authorities tell you that there is drug money that came into your bank in cash in suitcases. And then you sent the money to Panama at the request of those drug dealers. . . . You failed the test of leadership.”

Later, Perry lightened up. After Sanchez criticized Perry’s environmental policies, the governor noted, “What Mr. Sanchez didn’t tell you is that he recently told a Corpus Christi newspaper that he would copy Europe and allow Texans only two ice cubes per drink.” As chuckles rippled through the audience, Perry held up two fingers — and half-heartedly suppressed a grin — to illustrate his point. “That’s his conservation plan.” He then shot a glance at his opponent and quipped, “Mr. Sanchez, you’ve been spending too much time in Europe.”


Further into the program, Perry questioned Hutchison about her support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. As she explained the intricacies of her decision process — just as he had planned — Perry played to the crowd, staring off into the distance with raised eyebrows as if to ask, “Is she done yet?”

It's one thing for him to do that in Texas, where people tended to know him. In that situation he can show a little personality, and a little arrogance.

In a debut on a national stage, with millions of people tuning in to see who he is, that's exactly the wrong thing to do. The first goal should to be to let people you're a serious guy, on top of things, smart, in command, not easily rattled.

The joking must wait. Particularly because the last president who had been a governor in Texas loved to tease and had a lot of confidence and charm. Perry's goal is to convince people he's actually not George W. Bush, and he can do that by restraining the personality and just projecting a smooth fluency with policy and principle.

I think he understands that, though. In this interview with Mark Levin, he just explains himself (including his support of the Texas Dream Act, which is not the federal one) and winds up actually getting a blessing from Levin -- not an endorsement, Levin stresses, but Levin calls him one of the several candidates he could support enthusiastically.

If Perry gets cute, jokesy, or swagger-y in the debate, he'll halt his momentum and lose some of it. If he stays on policy, he wins.

I think as a general matter that people have to shore up their weaknesses, not play to their strengths. Strengths are a comfort zone, and people like to stay in comfort zones; but strengths show themselves naturally, without having to emphasize them.

It's weaknesses that people are looking at. Address the weaknesses and the strengths will take care of themselves.

Clarification: I'm talking about the September 7 Republican debate at the Reagan Library, which is Perry's national debut.

Whether he can go after Obama hard, to his face, depends on how much credibility and authority he's amassed at that point (assuming he's the nominee). That's a different question.

Basically my thought on that is by the time the public is that much on your side that you can trash-talk your challenger, you've already pretty much won.

Further Clarification: I see where people are missing my point-- I didn't write it clearly.

I don't want Perry roughing up the other candidates with swagger and jokes. Of course, attack Obama -- but Perry's main goal in attacking Obama is to do so in a way that suggests that Perry knows what he's talking about and Obama doesn't.

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posted by Ace at 04:48 PM

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