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September 23, 2011

Perry's Brainless Invocation of Heartlessness

Of all the things he could have said, this was pretty much the worst.

Drew covered this, but it's worth noting this really hurt Perry with Frank Luntz's focus group.

According to Luntzís focus group, this line by Perry was not only his worst moment in the debate, but perhaps the worst moment any Republican has had in any debate since he started doing these debate-watching focus groups.

A few points:

1. Although Romney is never convincing as to why RomneyCare is right for Massachusetts but wrong for America, he does at least stress, again and again, that it's only right for Massachusetts. Gibberish though it is, he is insistent that Massachusetts is a special, magical place where RomneyCare is good policy... and nowhere else.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that "and nowhere else" part. Romney makes no sense on this point, but he does try to convince people that RomneyCare is a unique thing which should not be duplicated elsewhere.

Perry obviously has some problems on immigration. The way I envisioned him dealing with this would be to stress that Texas has a different experience with the border than non-border states, and that anything he'd done in Texas on immigration would be, like RomneyCare in Massachusetts, explicitly limited as a policy response to the special conditions of Texas.

This "You don't have a heart line" completely undercuts that. If Mitt Romney proclaimed, "If you're not in favor of some kind of government-guaranteed health care, you don't have a heart," that would be evidence that his own heart urged him towards a national health care system, RomneyCare for EveryWhere.

Similarly, Rick Perry's claim that this issue is a matter of heart -- not particular circumstances in Texas, not a policy forced upon him by a federal government which refuses to patrol the border (and thus creates the problem in the first place) -- seems to suggest he thinks this is good policy as a national matter.

I'm not sure how he walks that back. And that's a problem, because while the purpose of the debates is to answer nagging questions about you (and not, as Drew notes, to rack up debating points against opponents), Perry is creating more of them.

2. Once again Perry seemed to grow mentally tired in the second half of the debate. All of his worst moments seem to come in that second half.

Why is that? Some have suggested he's still fatigued from his back surgery. I don't know.

3. Although there's joy in RomneyTown today, it should be noted that Romney always seems to be granted "you lose in the primaries, but you win in the general, so you really win in the primaries" sort of special rule.

On many issues, taking the "moderate" position is thought to be a political help with moderates. (I'm not sure that math applies in this election, at least not to the extent it has in the past, but ignore that for now.)

Romney is thought to be a strong general election candidate, because he has taken liberal positions on, say, abortion in the past. And by "playing in the field of health care," as ParisParamus says, that indicates to moderates, who just want to know a candidate is willing to consider a range of policy responses to a problem, Romney is also stronger in the general.

To some extent, on some issues, "losing" an issue in the primary is actually "winning" it in the general election campaign. Being perceived as the most doctrinaire, full-throated conservative is considered a plus in the primary; but being considered a more nuanced, heterodox thinker is a plus in the general.

Romney's backers rely on this logic all the time. But does this not apply to Perry as well? Who came across as the "extremist," and who the "moderate," in the in-state-tuition-for-the-children-of-illegals argument?

Not to say I liked Perry's answer. At all. But Romney's folks have a way of spinning primary sow's arses into general election silk purses. They should confess that this special rule applies to other candidates too.

But what a strange inversion this is when the putative "conservative" candidate is offering up emotion-tugging soft-headed moderate pablum, and the "moderate" one talks up vetoing a similar bill.

4. In the case of Mike Castle, I had a good reason for not caring very much about his liberal position on Cap and Trade: Cap and Trade was dead. (Seen it proposed lately?)

Sure, it offered a glimpse into his thinking, and that glimpse was not appealing, but the issue itself? Harmless. No one's passing Cap and Trade, not in current climate (nor the foreseeable climate for the next six years).

The actual issue of in-state tuition, though, is somewhat more live on a national level, as the Democrats attempt to get various amnesty-leaning bills through Congress. They go nowhere, but they do actually bother to introduce them into the Senate.

Given a right-leaning House of Representatives, and also given a Senate which will almost certainly have 40 strong conservative filibuster votes (for anything) in 2012, there is less danger in a candidate who frankly is simply soft on immigration.

But there is some.

Whether this is disqualifying, I don't know.

I know it's not a good thing for Perry that the best argument for him here is "Congress will restrain him.... hopefully."

5. But on that point, I do consider one's political sense and savvy to be important attributes. Perry's failure to have a smooth prepared response here seems to indicate he scarcely saw this one coming.

I don't know what kind of malfunctioning political compass he has to not have anticipated his weakest issue was immigration.

I anticipated that. All of my questions for him (I sent some to people who know him, or know people who know him) were on immigration.

Why didn't he?

On the 3am Question: Perry's answer wasn't good, but there are no good answers. Drew's proposed answer -- which he considers a "good" one -- is an evasive punt, essentially saying "I'll have a plan."

Here's the problem: First of all, this question should have been about a hypothetical country, not Pakistan. When you name the country as "Pakistan," you are... inviting a presidential candidate to announce to an Al Qaeda friendly, on-the-edge-of-becoming-a-full-fledged-terrorist-nuclear-state, that you intend to invade them.

What's a candidate supposed to say? "Yes, I will invade this country, which is formally an ally (even though it's an enemy), so let me right now push this nuclear armed terrorist-loving state further to the edge by playing into jihadist victimization mythology by announcing the Great Satan will take their nukes."

Further, look, here's what I really think about Pakistan: I think this ends in a nuclear exchange.

I don't think the public really wants to contemplate that. I'm contemplating that myself, and I don't like contemplating that.

But Pakistan is, in fact, pretty much Al Qaeda with nukes.

It won't end pretty.

I would not advise anyone in power, or seeking power, to be perfectly forthright on this point.

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posted by Ace at 11:55 AM

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