Compilation of analysis and reaction to the CNN/Tea Party debate

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Mitt Romney was not as strong in this debate than he was last week but he’s a long distance runner and was barely knocked off stride by his rivals. It wasn’t a convincing win but a win nonetheless.

In contrast, cracks are beginning to show in Rick Perry’s candidacy, especially when he’s forced to explain anything longer than a soundbite. The best news for Perry is that very few are watching these debates and his weak performance is unlikely to move his poll numbers that much.

Michele Bachmann was stronger this week and was fueled by an audience of Tea Partiers. Nonetheless, she was unable to move back into the contention with the two frontrunners.

Of the bottom tier candidates, Jon Huntsman was even less relevant in this debate than he was at the last one, if that’s even possible. His attempt at jokes and zingers fell flat nearly every time and were just painful to watch. He’s now doing damage to his reputation.

A compilation of analysis of and reactions to tonight’s debate:

9:50 a.m. – Despite Rick Perry’s shaky performance in last night’s presidential debate, First Read notes the good news “is that the debate essentially dumped the oppo file on Perry. Is there anything else left? Of course, perhaps nothing else is needed; the next chapter of this primary fight will hit the TV airwaves via paid spots. One other note that to us strikes us as Perry’s larger strategy in preparing to contrast with Romney: Perry made the decision to own his positions. In other words, you might not agree with him all the time, but he’s not holding his finger up in the wind.”

9:21 a.m. – Rick Perry has cost Mitt Romney his lead in the polls but made him a better candidate and potentially, a more formidable nominee.

8:41 a.m.How Mitt Romney can win by plurality: …the Republican undercard of Bachmann, Santorum and Paul remains in the race to bloody Perry so much on his right flank that Romney can consolidate enough of the GOP establishment to eke out a plurality victory. The former Massachusetts governor’s high command could barely contain their glee after the forum. ‘Rick Perry came into this debate with a Social Security problem and he left with a conservative problem and he had to defend himself,’ said senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. … Perry is now facing the biggest challenge yet to his month-old campaign. He found out Monday evening how difficult it can be to run as the activist favorite with some glaring deviations from party orthodoxy. Put another way, the tiger he’s been riding turned around. … Perry sought Monday to dial back his bellicose tendencies after an aggressive debut. … The CNN debate was … a preview of what’s to come in the first-in-the-nation caucuses, where Bachmann and Santorum are assiduously working conservatives. ‘This is what the Iowa campaign trail is going to sound like,’ said GOP strategist Mike Murphy.

8:38 a.m. – Slate’s John Dickerson: “Rick Perry served five years in the Air Force, and at his second presidential debate, he must have had flashbacks. He stalled, climbed, and clattered into a few hard landings. He was under fire from the left, right, and above. Ron Paul said Perry had raised taxes as governor of Texas. Mitt Romney said Perry wanted to end Social Security. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum repeatedly criticized Perry’s decision to vaccinate young girls against HPV.

6:03 a.m. – Andrew Sullivan: “The weirdest debate so far: feisty but surreal. If I had to game this one, I’d say Bachmann stayed alive, Perry began very strong but wobbled, Romney did fine, and Ron Paul shone the way only he can. But clearly the crowd loved Perry the most. God help us.”

6:01 a.m. – Ben Smith: “If the CNN/Tea Party debate, and particularly the central Perry-Romney confrontation, were being scored on debater’s points, there’s no doubt Romney would win. He’s better prepared to talk about both his own record — witness the snappy pivot off Romneycare — and about Perry’s record, ahead of the Texan at pretty much every step… But this isn’t scored on debating points, and Perry — though he’s getting pummeled from left and right — is working to talk past his rivals, and to regularly remind voters of his economic conservatism. That may be enough.”

5:45 a.m. – Walter Shapiro: “After watching nearly four hours of Republican debate since Thursday night, I will confess to feeling like a detective searching for a missing clue. The Perry versus Romney story line seems too simple, too predictable to define the race all the way to the Iowa caucuses. While Perry is still atop his perch, the only safe bet is that something unexpected will jumble the GOP contest before the first frost.”

5:30 a.m. – Paul Burka: “Perry was clearly off his game during the tea party debate. He looked uncomfortable, his face was strained, his combativeness was muted. He looked to me like a man with back pain. I wondered  if he were wearing a brace. I’ve had back surgery, and it hurt to watch him.”

11:17 p.m. – Eric Deggans thought the debate was as unrepentant blood sport.

11:16 p.m. – The quick rundown of the Romney/Perry set-to on Social Security.

11:15 p.m. – Here is a  compilation of analysis from some of the major critics:

Aaron Carroll:

Let’s start here with the moment I screamed at the TV. I’m sorry, but the audience cheering the idea of letting a thirty-year old who got sick without insurance die is appalling. You can dislike the moral hazard, you can bemoan the fact that people don’t take enough personal responsibility, you can even wish that society wouldn’t have to be on the hook when uninsured people get sick. But don’t take pleasure in that fact. Right now, there are thirty-year olds who don’t have jobs, can’t find work, and can’t afford insurance. Letting them die if they get sick is not “good”. It’s not even “freedom”. Applauding that is depressing.

Alex Castellanos:

Romney=jobs, Perry=anti-Washington. Anger beats hope every time. This crowd rightly wants somebody as mad about DC as they are.




No one stood out in my mind as tonight’s clear winner. However, Perry did suffer from the onslaught on his vaccine mandate. He seemed shaken and many of his answers were simply incoherent. Huntsman seemed to lose the small bit of ground he gained in the last debate by missing opportunities to connect with the crowd and botching his attempts to be mean. Again, I thought Romney was steady and kept his head above water. I suppose that makes him the winner by default.

Taegan Goddard:

Mitt Romney was not as strong in this debate than he was last week but he’s a long distance runner and was barely knocked off stride by his rivals. It wasn’t a convincing win but a win nonetheless. In contrast, cracks are beginning to show in Rick Perry’s candidacy, especially when he’s forced to explain anything longer than a soundbite. The best news for Perry is that very few are watching these debates and his weak performance is unlikely to move his poll numbers that much.

Andrew Sprung:

In the GOP debate tonight, Perry doubled down on his slimy insinuation that Ben Bernanke’s attempts to stimulate the economy with monetary policy are treasonous. This time he used the classic demagogic method of asserting that we have no way of knowing that an outrageous smearisn’t true. Of Bernanke’s motive for intimating that further monetary easing may be coming, he said “we don’t know if it was political or not” — i.e., whether Bernanke is motivated by trying to help Obama get re-elected.  Never mind that the being accused of treason for following a given policy course by the leading presidential candidate of one party would constitute a perfectly good motive for trying to maintain the other in office. Or that Bernanke is a Republican, and a Bush appointee, and a student of the Great Depression whose entire corpus of published writings support a more radical course of easing than he’s pursued.  From smearing motive to charging treason — that’s the GOP way.

Dave Weigel:

Here is where the benefits and risks of the Tea Party audience come in. All Perry needs to say, to win the Social Security exchange — for now — is that Romney is slavishly defending the New Deal. “If what you’re trying to say is that in the 30s and 40s,” he says, “the federal government made all the right decisions, I’m going to disagree with you.” Brilliant in the GOP primary. Is challenging every element of the New Deal brilliant in a general election? More than it used to be…

Matt Yglesias:

The only thing that really, truly stuck with me from the Republican presidential debate was Rick Santorum misspeaking and saying “court the illegal vote” before correcting himself to say “Latino vote.” I sometimes find myself discussing with other people whether I identify as Hispanic, and the answer is that I’m really not that strongly identified with my one grandparent’s Cuban heritage but this kind of thing really does piss me off more than being offensive about other groups of people would.

11:08 p.m. – The Fix lays out the Winners & Losers from tonight’s debate.  Loser: Rick Perry:

The frontrunner didn’t get it done tonight. After surviving the expected back and forth with Romney over Social Security, Perry seemed to let his guard down a bit when the subject turned to his executive order on the HPV vaccine. Big mistake. Bachmann lit into him and Santorum jumped on too. (Romney said nothing but had to be thrilled with the development.) Perry tried to emphasize that he was acting to save lives but it didn’t sell. Following that exchange, he looked flustered and missed a chance to go after Romney in a more meaningful way on health care. And Perry’s answer on illegal immigration drew boos from the audience. Looking for a silver lining for Perry? He demonstrated a willingness to clean up self-created messes on both Social Security and his “treasonous” remark about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

11:05 p.m. – Howard Kurtz: With Bachmann hanging back, Romney seized control of the tempo in what may have been his strongest performance so far. He seemed at ease taking the fight to Perry and got the better of their heated exchanges. The former Massachusetts governor was clearly trying to position himself as the reassuring grownup on stage and Perry as the fearmonger.

11:02 p.m. – The Florida Democratic Party issued the following statement in response to tonight’s debate:

“The Republican candidates on stage tonight, once again, offered no solutions to help Florida’s seniors and middle class families. Instead, they continued running hard to the right, embracing the Tea Party agenda inpandering to the most extreme wing of their party.”

11:00 p.m. – Tim Pawlenty issued the following statement regarding tonight’s debate:

“Mitt Romney was the clear winner of tonight’s debate. His experience working in the real economy was evident tonight. No other candidate has the same knowledge of how jobs are created and what it will take for our economy to grow and for businesses to start hiring again. I am supporting him because I know that his experience and values are what the country needs to get on the right track.”

10:54 p.m. – Statement from Rick Perry on tonight’s debate:

“I attended my first Tea Party Rally on April 15, 2009, the date widely seen as the birthday of the Tea Party movement,” Gov. Perry said.  “I share the agenda of millions of concerned citizens to fix the fiscal mess created in Washington D.C., and get America working again.”

“As president I will work to rein in federal spending, reduce taxes, bring predictability to our regulatory framework and reduce frivolous lawsuits, the conservative platform I used to help make Texas the top jobs-producing state. By standing strong against tax increases, overreaching regulations and the change-resistant federal bureaucracy, I know we can get America working again.”

10:52 p.m. – Statement from Michelle Bachmann on tonight’s debate:

Fresh off the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann demonstrated tonight at the CNN-Tea Party GOP Presidential Debate that she is the only candidate who reflects the values and principles of the conservative movement, asserting her positions on economic growth, social security, healthcare mandates and immigration.

10:51 p.m.– South Florida Tea Party & Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson on tonight’s debate:

“The clear winner in the CNN Debate is the ‘tea party movement.’ It was exciting to see a country that is finally trying to focus on the fiscal issues. Gov. Rick Perry took some serious hits with his executive order that required HPV vaccine and support for illegal immigration. Former Speaker Newt made a lot of sense and is very unrated. Michelle Bachmann appears to have regain her footing.

“Congressman Ron Paul was doing great till he ran into a wall with national security. No one heard Paul’s answer because of the boos. Businessman Herman Cain had a very simple and likable 999 plan, however he failed to play any serious part in the debate. I wish we could have heard from Third Party and Democrat candidates would have been there. In addition, there should have been questions to the candidates regarding the increased spending, trillions of new debt and lack of balanced budget regarding the Paul Ryan Budget Plan.”

10:48 p.m. – Video of the crowd going hog wild as Perry doubles down on Bernanke Treason.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.