Taegan Goddard: It’s very clear Mitt Romney has done this before because he looked like a long distance runner compared to the other candidates on the stage. He won the debate, but only because Rick Perry stumbled badly on several questions. In fact, Perry’s doubling-down on his criticisms of social security may ultimately prove to be a fatal flaw as GOP primary voters gauge electability.
Michele Bachmann lost the debate because she did nothing to stop her downward drift in the polls. By next month, her campaign may be an afterthought. Ron Paul has more staying power than her because his libertarian base is unique and unmoving.
Most amazing moment: The audience applauding the record number of executions carried out under Perry’s tenure as governor.
An AP fact check by Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn finds Romney’s Bush comparison and Perry’s Dukakis comparison were both accurate: “Romney accurately stated that George W. Bush – even without his predecessor – saw jobs grow at a faster rate during his 1994-2000 years as governor than Perry has during his 11 years governing Texas. Employment grew by about 1.32 million during Bush’s six years in office. Employment during Perry’s years has grown about 1.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As for Perry’s claim about Romney’s record and that of Dukakis, he was at least in the ballpark.
Jonathan Cohn: Romney demonstrated a thorough command of issues, while Perry served up word salad, Palin style, once the questions got complicated. Romney defended Social Security, while Perry reaffirmed his belief that the program was a “ponzi scheme.” I won’t pretend to know how their respective performances will affect the campaign, because I’m not a conservative. But if this were a contest of smarts, savvy, and polish, Romney would have won handily.
Rod Dreher: My big takeaway of the evening is that Rick Perry emerged (barely) as the winner, if “winner” is a word that can properly describe this crew. Perry seemed sure of himself most of the time, and projected gravitas, except for some stumbles that may not look like stumbles (more on which later). Romney seemed strangely insubstantial next to him. Why on earth didn’t Romney go after Perry more?
Erick Erickson: “it is clear Perry is the front runner given the pile on from the other candidates. … The other candidates took willful potshots against Rick Perry. Perry, despite some stumbles and the pile on by the moderators and other participants, held his own and will only get stronger the more of these he does. And if he doesn’t? Goodbye frontrunner status.
Fallows: To my eye: Romney moves smoothly ahead, Perry raises some of the “hey, wait a minute” doubts that have pulled down Bachmann since her early prominence. Romney and Huntsman, who sounded way smoother and more confident than he had before, were the two who seem as if they realize there is a campaign to run against Obama after the primaries. Obviously I am not part of the Tea Party base. But one of these people is going to have to run for non-Tea Party votes a year from now, and that’s the standard I am applying.
David Frum: The revelation from the Republican presidential debate: Rick Perry and his team utterly failed to prepare answers to utterly predictable questions on “military adventurism” and Social Security. Worse than that, Perry’s Social Security answer delivered President Obama the perfect clip for a 2012 negative ad: Rick Perry in his too-new suit and too-shiny tie denouncing Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. If Perry wins the nomination, expect to see that moment reiterated in as many TV ads as $1 billion in presidential campaign funds can buy.
Ezra Klein: “Mitt Romney looked like he had already won the Republican nomination. Rick Perry looked like he will win the Republican nomination. Michele Bachmann looked like she was beginning to realize she definitely wouldn’t win the Republican nomination.”
Will Rick Perry’s Social Security Remarks Hurt Him in Florida?,” by Alex Leary: “Earlier this year a pro-Social Security interest group said its polling found 76 percent of Florida voters opposed cuts to Social Security to lower the deficit. Among Republicans, it was 66 percent. … U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio in his GOP primary battle with Charlie Crist said during nationally televised debate that he was open to changes to Social Security. Crist ran ads against him. But Rubio won easily.”
Electability A Primary Problem for Perry,” by Nate Silver: “Mr. Perry’s lead in the polls right now is based in part on perceptions that he is electable. … [In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll,] 30 percent of Republican voters said they thought he had the best chance of defeating Mr. Obama, versus 20 percent for Mr. Romney. … Mr. Perry’s problems on Wednesday night, however, were of his own making: he was strong when engaging the other candidates, but weak on handling questions from the moderators. Unless he develops a stronger defense of his positions on Social Security, he will make Mr. Romney’s job much easier.
Ed Morrissey: Overall, I’d say that Romney and Perry did well, Romney perhaps a little more so, while Bachmann lost by not engaging, and the rest of the field didn’t make a case for their relevancy to the eventual outcome. If Perry can work on his delivery a bit over the next two debates, this will become a two-man race.
Andrew Sullivan: “My take-away? Perry has proved himself an extreme, inarticulate, incurious W clone. He doubled down on the vicious attacks on social security; and his rhetoric was off-key. Huntsman emerged as an actual candidate; Romney kicked ass. Bachmann is wearing thinner and thinner. Paul is Paul. Santorum is a Vatican crank. Gingrich is an angry old man. Cain has no business being up there. Perry’s poor performance gives Palin an opening.”
Dave Weigel gives Michele Bachmann’s performance a B-: “Unless something torpedoes Perry, she’s no longer a factor in the race. The mannered efforts to pretend that some congressional battles have given her all the experience she needs to serve are just unbearably weak with three governors onstage