GOP Debate Analysis: Romney, Perry Embroiled In Vegas Fight Night
During Romney's 30-second rebuttal, wherein he uncharacteristically said he "didn't get the job done" lowering costs in the state, Santorum pounced. The two tried to out talking-points each other incoherently for several seconds until Santorum angrily said "Governor your time is up."
It was a flagrant disregard for the debate rules and it simply overwhelmed Romney's circuitry. For a blessed few seconds, the robo-candidate whose poll numbers have been a mathematical constant (though not always first) throughout the primary was all out of whack as he gave a bungled response that admitted some level of failure in his Massachusetts health care plan.
Of course Santorum came from a place of desperation, and his truculent attitude on the Vegas stage looked like a low-cash candidate about to fire off the last boxes of fireworks.
What followed that exchange, at least for the first hour, was the freest, loudest, and most aggressive debate of the never ending primary season. Whether this mano-e-mano was good for any one candidate other than Barack Obama is debatable, but for once it made good television.
As soon as Romney was on his heels, Rick Perry started licking his chops. He's all but conceded to being the most informed candidate on stage and his eloquence in discussing the issues, leaves, uh, much to, well, be…he could be better at it.
But he does feel comfortable shooting from the hip and Romney had a Texas-sized target on his shiny suit. Perry emptied a clip talking about Romney's history of hiring a construction company that uses some illegal immigrants (you'll remember that chestnut from the 2008 primaries).
Again during Romney's rebuttal, he was cut off by the challenger, but this time he fought back, growing a bit pinker in the face and placing a non-comforting hand on Perry's shoulder. When the Texan continued to force the issue, Romney lashed out to make a crude point about Perry's less than stellar debate performances prior.
It was a low blow and the debate equivalent of getting into an argument with your brother and bringing up his crappy GPA. The audience, which otherwise was on Romney's side through most of the night, groaned.
Later, Romney tussled with Newt Gingrich over health care, and the ex-Massachusetts governor hammered at a point that the former speaker was part of a institution that developed the individual mandate. It meant little in the course of debate or policy, but to see Newt, ever the big ideas intellectual of the group, sheepishly concede involvement, was a true Vegas spectacle.
When they began talking over each other again, Romney pleaded for host Anderson Cooper to maintain order. But Cooper's got history as a reality show host and knows its best to let the contestants duke it out.
Before Romney-boxing became an Olympic event, Herman Cain was the main attraction. The first ten minutes of the debate was a pointed takedown of his 9-9-9 plan.
Each candidate took his, or her, turn finding flaws in his policies. It was little things like how would a 9 percent national sales tax work alongside state taxes, or why has independent analysis debunked most of its tenants.
Cain glosses over these points with generalities about not respecting the simplicity of "9-9-9" or invocations to check out his website. There's a heavy existentialist layer over all this discussion of a plan that just has no chance of ever becoming law or even seriously discussed in Congress.
Newt summed it up best when he politely commended Cain for thinking big and putting bold ideas out there. Beyond that though, no matter how adequately Cain does in debates, he's yet to escape the feeling that both he and his beloved "9s" are destined to a life on VH-1s future "I Love the 2012."
Beyond that, Michele Bachmann has altogether given up on directly responding to posed questions. Wearing a white outfit that could best be described as "resplendent band leader" she turned a question about military spending into a diatribe about Obama's foreign policy (in which she blamed the president for getting us involved in conflicts both in Libya AND Africa). She seems a million years away from the time when she was a serious candidate.
The debate at the Venetian will be the last time we get to see all the candidates together on stage for about a month. No doubt the Romney rumble took a bit out of the man and that he'll need to make up in the coming days. But at worst he's walking away bruised in a draw.
If the attempt by CNN was to mix some Vegas glitz into the proceedings, they got something closer to a cliffhanging TV season finale. There's a chance some of the cast won't be back, and with January inching closer, the storyline marches ever forward.
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