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September 12, 2011

Debate Preview

1. Social Security. Likely to be the liveliest part of the debate. Romney has claimed that Perry plans to abolish Social Security, including in fliers circulated in Florida. Romney's attack is two-pronged: 1, chase voters away from Perry on this issue itself, and 2, also put a dent in the current belief that Perry is more (or just as) electable as he is.

Perry could stand or fall depending on his response here. I imagine he may call Romney a liar to his face. In fact, I'm not sure that anything short of that would be suitably reassuring to voters who are concerned by this line of attack.

2. Immigration. Romney had intended to get to this in the last debate, but didn't. This is actually where Perry has the most vulnerability. I don't expect Romney to leave immigration off the table this time around. With the Tea Party co-hosting the debate, I doubt their questioners will forget to ask about this.

Again, this could be a do or die issue for Perry. Either he can make a strong account for himself on this issue, or suddenly the Perry boomlet might end.

3. Ron Paul! Ron Paul probably loathes Perry more than other candidates. Because of the assault and everything.

Perry made a tactical mistake in responding to one of Ron Paul's attacks last go-round. When Ron Paul brought up his letter to Hillary Clinton, telling her to not forget the farmer community when planning reforms in health care reform, Perry said briefly had had no idea what reforms Hillary would propose. And then attacked Ron Paul for writing Ronald Reagan to quit the Republican Party.

In this kind of attack, it is not enough to simply attack Ron Paul. Ron Paul is an anti-semitic neo-Bircher conspiracy theorist crank, whose actual capacity to attract support in the GOP is limited at around 10% (right where it is). But if Ron Paul successfully attacks Perry, voters may desert Perry not necessarily for Ron Paul, but for some other alternative, such as Romney or Bachmann or Gingrich (or the undeclared Palin).

Simply knocking Paul is no real defense. It doesn't accomplish Perry's goal, which is to attract supporters to his own standard.

On this particular attack, Perry could have reminded the audience -- do you remember this? -- that the Hillary Health Care Reform Panel was notoriously secret. This was a big knock on it at the time -- it was all done behind closed doors, until they unveiled their monstrosity to the public.

Perry would have been much better served by pointing this out, rather than attacking the candidate from Prison Planet.

Ron Paul will surely attack Perry more tonight. The same way that lions and dolphins are not threats to one another, Romney isn't a threat to Paul, because there's very little chance a Paul supporter would defect to Romney, or vice versa. On the other hand, Perry can at least plausibly claim to be a 10th Amendment, return-power-to-the-states libertarian, which directly threatens Paul's little niche.

Although some attacks on Paul are warranted, Perry has to make sure his first, second, and third goal here is to knock down Paul's attack. Successfully attacking Paul in return should be a bonus-damage situation only.

4. RomneyCare. With (I assume) Tea Party people supply questions, this will be Romney's greatest challenge. Romney has the benefit, however, of this particular albatross being very well known already; it's doubtful Romney could actually hurt himself on this score. Or help himself. Opinions are already formed.

But a bad soundbite from Romney -- a defense of the mandate, say -- could do some additional harm.

5. Bachmann's Attempt To Re-Join the Top Tier. Perry's entry into the race has hurt Bachmann most of all. One recent poll has her down to 4%, I just heard.

That's why she'll be eager to join Romney in the Social Security attack. But Bachmann herself called Social Security a "fraud" back in 2010. Has Perry done his homework? Does he have that reply at the ready?

6. Everyone Else. Cain is done, and Santorum never had a realistic chance, despite decent debate performances. Huntsman seems to have won some kind of reality-tv contest giving him the right to pretend to be a Republican candidate for President.

Gingrich has been showing a pulse lately, and while I really doubt he could ever join the top tier, he has been gaining credibility in the debates.

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posted by Ace at 06:53 PM

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