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October 12, 2011 8:45 AM Unable to break a glass jaw

By Steve Benen

Remember the stuff I said yesterday about the heated confrontations we could expect in the Republican debate in New Hampshire? Well, forget it. The GOP field is led by a weak frontrunner with a glass jaw, but his rivals are neither willing nor able to take an effective swing.

Herman Cain vowed yesterday, “I’m going after Romney.” Rick Perry unveiled a very hard-hitting video on Monday, and seemed to realize the importance of being aggressive before it’s too late.

And yet, Romney, whose good fortune is “starting to seem supernatural,” walked away unscathed. His Republican rivals are so awful, they make Romney look like the best debater since Cicero, not because he’s particularly extraordinary, but because the rest of the field is an inarticulate, undifferentiated blob.

Put it this way: if one had to pick one subject that dominated the debate last night, what would it be? Romney’s Obama-like health care law? Romney’s atrocious record on job creation? Romney’s integrity-free flip-flopping? No, it was Herman Cain’s deeply silly “9-9-9” tax plan. Romney not only lucked out with pathetic challengers, he also lucks out by the topics of conversation.

And what of Rick Perry’s big comeback opportunity? The Texas governor conceded after the event, “Debates are not my strong suit.” That’s an understatement — his best moments came when he was able to say nothing for long stretches of time. A few days ago, Perry’s aides assured the political world he’d be better prepped, more relaxed, and better focused, but even his supporters should realize at this point that the guy just isn’t ready for prime-time.

I trust everyone noticed this remarkable answer from the former frontrunner:

“We’re missing this so much. What we need to be focused on in this country today is not whether or not we’re going to have this policy or that policy. What we need to be focused on is how we get America working again. That’s where we need to be focused.”

Oh, good. Perry wants to create jobs, but not through public policy. Let’s also not overlook this exchange:

TUMULTY: Governor Perry, over the last 30 years, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has grown by more than 300 percent. And yet, we have more people living in poverty in this country than at any time in the last 50 years. Is this acceptable? And what would you do to close that gap?

PERRY: The reason we have that many people living in poverty is because we’ve got a president of the United States who’s a job killer. That’s what’s wrong with this country today.

I see. So the class gap that started expanding in earnest while President Obama was in high school is, apparently, in Perry’s odd mind, entirely a new phenomenon.

It’s probably a stretch to say Perry’s finished. He’s still the most viable non-Romney Republican, and he has plenty of money to run some pretty brutal attack ads. But if he doesn’t learn how to be a presidential candidate very quickly, the governor will soon face questions about why he even chose to run in the first place.

As for the rest of the field, Jon Huntsman’s attempts at humor fell flat; Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann are stark raving mad; Ron Paul is Ron Paul; Rick Santorum is awfully whiny; and Herman Cain has a large enough personality to be rewarded with a Fox News show soon after dropping out.

And as hard as it is to believe, it’s very likely the Republican presidential nomination will go to a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change, and who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Dredd on October 12, 2011 8:49 AM:

    Simplicity is sometimes the enemy of propaganda.

    In the USA the simple truth is expressed with two simple numbers: 1% and 99%.

    The rest is dictum.

    Hence the lack of debate.

  • Rob on October 12, 2011 8:52 AM:

    And as hard as it is to believe, itís very like the Republican presidential nomination will go to a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, ďamnestyĒ for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change, and who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.

    ...and if that happens, it is President Obama whose good fortune will almost seem supernatural.

  • c u n d gulag on October 12, 2011 8:53 AM:

    "...itís very like the Republican presidential nomination will go to a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist RAT named Willard,..."

    There, fixed it!

    And never mind making Romney sound like Cicero - Perry makes Little Boots look as calm as Washington, and sound as poetic as Lincoln.

  • martin on October 12, 2011 8:55 AM:

    If Cain deserves a Fox News gig, Bachman deserves a spot on Saturday Night Live for her turn 999 upside down response. They are going to have to bring back Dana Carvey to have the church lady deal with her.


    Am I the only one whose Captcha is stuck on the same two word? It doesn't happen on my computer at work, but at home I've had the same two words for days. Of course, if I type them in Captcha rejects them, so I have to play Captcha roulette. Even reloading the page doesn't change it.

  • jdb on October 12, 2011 9:00 AM:

    I agree that Romney is inevitable. The question now is, how does Obama defeat him? We can hope that, even though he is inevitable, he will get bruised up a bit during the primaries. Hopefully, Perry won't go easy, and he will continue his class-warfare attacks on Romney, so that Obama can pick up where Perry left off. We can also assume that he won't get off so easily when he debates Obama. I think that it will be an extremely close race - the good news, however, is that Romney, when debating Obama, will not be allowed to become the standard-bearer for the tea party and the crazies. The conversation will be among adults, and it will perhaps be a truly sincere conversation about the role of government in our economy and our lives. I think Obama will win that conversation, in part because there is not a huge difference between their positions (e.g. health care reform). But, regardless, I think we should be optimistic that the contest will be a productive part of the process of our democracy.

  • Anonymous on October 12, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Republicans are known for falling in line, holding their noses, and walking straight off the cliff with their leaders. I worry that, if Romney wins the nomination, Republicans will go to the polls anyway and he'll attract enough moderates to win the presidency.

  • Ron Byers on October 12, 2011 9:08 AM:

    Anonymous, assume your fear is justified. Now do something about it.

  • Diningwith on October 12, 2011 9:09 AM:

    I am not enough of a political junkie to have a deep grasp of GOP primary rules, but I wonder if it is possible that no one gets anywhere near a majority of delegates, the convention gets deadlocked, and someone like Jeb Bush becomes the nominee because he could mount a national campaign in short order.

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 9:10 AM:

    its still Romney, who no one seems to like, but actually seem like-able, or Perry, who a lot of people used to like-up to the point where they actually saw/heard him.
    Perry now has only one choice....get the knives out and employ the take-no-prisoners approach he's perfected against feckless candidates in Texas.
    It's clear he's not going to out-thing or out-talk Romney. With Christie's endorsement, the GOP bosses have reluctantly thrown in with MItt. If Perry was holding Palin's endorsement for an emergency, it's here. But will Sarah tie her tail to a guy who can't think or talk? Well, gee, that sounds just like her, doesn't it? And would a Palin endorsement help Perry anymore? If he continues to fizzle, and she stays at the fishing camp, the whole TeaParty movement will be on its way to dumpsville.

  • DAY on October 12, 2011 9:10 AM:

    Like a stool, a successful politician is supported by three legs: Money, organization, and charisma.

    Like a stool, a successful debater is supported by three legs: Intelligence, education, and charisma.

    I will leave others to draw any conclusions they wish.

  • Grumpy on October 12, 2011 9:20 AM:

    "Debates are not my strong suit."

    Oddly enough, Perry's strong suit is... his strong suit. You must admit, the man can dress.

    Rob: "...if that happens, it is President Obama whose good fortune will almost seem supernatural."

    Don't jinx it!

  • berttheclock on October 12, 2011 9:23 AM:

    Say what you will about the lack of debating skills of Rick The Hair, but, who can dispute his comments at the Frat house, following the debates, where, he implied it was not easy throwing off the shackles of that despot Henry VIII. Perhaps, history studies of our revolution were a little late reaching West Texas. Either that, or Michelle Bachmann had shared crib notes with him.

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 9:28 AM:

    regardless of who the GOP nominates, it will be a very close election. White folks who voted for Obama will give Romney a hard look, no so much Perry. Hard Lefties will probably sit home, reserving their right to complain about anything anyone does that doesn't suit them. But it's hard to beat an incumbent president with a weak candidate. Especially when Obama is proposing programs that large majorities of the public agree with, only to see them voted down by Republicans and Ben Nelson.

  • dalloway on October 12, 2011 9:32 AM:

    Remember when Pawlenty could have taken a knockout punch and didn't? And last night, when Perry or Cain or Bachmann could and didn't? Makes me think the whole GOP primary is kabuki and that Lord Rove arranged for Romney to be the winner long ago. The theatre is for the Tea Party, to gull them into thinking one of their guys (or gals) stands a chance. But in reality, the Big Money Boyz are firmly in control, as always.

  • TR on October 12, 2011 9:32 AM:

    "Rick Santorum is awfully whinny"

    Unless you meant to say he sounds like a horse, it's "whiny."

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 12, 2011 9:34 AM:

    I still find it sobering that Texas made Bush and Perry its' governors. Just stunning.

    @T2: hard lefties are nearly as stupid as the extreme right in this country.

  • c u n d gulag on October 12, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Btw, Steve - nice title!

  • Janet on October 12, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Steve, I'm pretty sure you mean the rest of the field is an INarticulate blob. Though they do seem to be articulating the concept of blobdom pretty well

  • John B. on October 12, 2011 10:00 AM:

    I'm not at all sure Rob (comment above at 8:52) is right that the stupendously dumb, inept, and insane Republican field guarantees an Obama victory. That's the hope of the WH, of course. But politics has become tribal especially for Republicans. Republican voters would turn out and vote for Typhoid Mary if she were the only Republican on the ticket.

    That goes for many so-called "independents," too. The vast majority of so-called "independents" are either lowest-information Republicans who won't admit it or new voters too young to have formed strong tribal ties.

    Obama faces a challenge very different from that of the Republican field. He was elected largely thanks to an almost (but not quite) unprecedented out-pouring of young and first-time voters who weren't happy with either tribal party and thought they heard Obama promise "change." They were young and still searching for a tribe they liked. Obama capitalized on that by posturing himself as if he were above it all.

    Now they know either they misheard Obama, or he lied, or after being elected he was captured by Wall Street -- the same Summers-Geithner-Goldman Sachs giant squid crowd that got us into this mess.

    Obama is not going to get anywhere near the same kind of energy and voting cushion from the young a second time around. Even within the minority communities (which have been hardest hit by the faltering economy) support for Obama is lukewarm at best. The young first-time voters he attracted in 2008 still do not identify with the Democratic Party. If anything, they feel a closer kinship with the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

    There is one presidential election in our history where a very similar dynamic was at work: 1968. LBJ was elected in 1964 with a similarly extraordinary outpouring of support from the young, partly due to fear of Goldwater and mostly due to support among the young for LBJ's progressive domestic policies on civil rights and anti-poverty.

    In 1968 the Republicans did what most commentators would have said two years earlier was impossible: they nominated the disreputable, discredited, thoroughly unlikable Richard ("You Won't Have Me To Kick Around Anymore") Nixon. The WH then (as now) assumed the young would have no choice but to vote for LBJ.

    But the same young liberals-without-a-tribe had become so completely disaffected with LBJ over his complicity in waging the Vietnam War that in the end they stayed home or simply skipped the presidential line on the ballot. (Compare the vote totals in the key states where "Eleven senators for peace" were running alongside Humphrey). Without those same young supporters from 1964 pouring out again in 1968 in the same or greater numbers, LBJ and his eventual stand-in as a pro-war candidate, Hubert Humphrey, lost big.

    As I see it, a very similar dynamic is at work presently. If it persists it won't matter who the Republicans nominate; Obama will not win reelection. As Nixon's resurrection shows us, that's what happens when a president betrays a large part of his supporters who are too young to have settled in as members of the Democratic tribe.

    There was one other dynamic in 1968 that may be in play: street protests against the war very quickly morphed into a mass movement of young people who went "Clean for Gene" in New Hampshire. (And, yes, I was among them.) As late as December, 1967 Gene McCarthy's campaign was being written off early by the Villagers as a mildly interesting circus of no importance. By February, 1968, McCarthy's success in the New Hampshire primary brought down a sitting president.

    Can "Occupy Wall Street" undergo a similar transformation from street protest to third-party movement? Does it want to? Should it? All interesting questions but irrelevant for the present discussion. Whether OWS protestors stay in the streets or not, Obama has lost them as surely as LBJ lost their parents (or grandparents) in 1967-68.

  • gifgrrl on October 12, 2011 10:04 AM:

    Steve - I believe you didn't understand Perry's point (re: rich/poor, job-killing). Obama started killing jobs when he was a high schooler, didn't ya know? Whatever it is, it's Obama's fault. It's all his fault. Always. And forever.

    And did I mention he's black???

    (for the cynically challenged, the above post is meant to be ironic)

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 10:17 AM:

    gifgrrl, you forgot to mention that Obama was not even born in the USA. He went to high school in Kenya - where nobody has jobs.

  • ckelly on October 12, 2011 10:32 AM:

    the Republican presidential nomination will go to a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, ďamnestyĒ for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change, and who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.

    Jeez, if he still supported those things I could vote for that guy.

  • ckelly on October 12, 2011 10:40 AM:

    @T2: hard lefties are nearly as stupid as the extreme right in this country.

    What exactly is a "hard lefty"? If it is someone deeply disappointed in Obama's moderate conservative policymaking, wholesale adoption of controversial Bush domestic and foreign policies, and his failure to fulfill most if not all of his campaign promises - then count me guilty.

  • skeptonomist on October 12, 2011 10:48 AM:

    What's not to like about Romney - for the people who actually run the Republican Party? He would be far and away the most electable. As long as a candidate is committed to keeping taxes low for rich people and allowing maximal profits for Wall Street and insurance companies his appeal to swing voters will be what gets him big-money support.

  • Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 12, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Steve, I still think you are seeing one of the most brilliant strategies I've seen by the eventual nominee. The candidate avoided the meat-grinder of the debates and early straw polls, thus not allowing the candidate's own weaknesses -- and record as Governor -- to be exposed. Then, as the "God-sent Saviour who will protect us from the evil Mormon" the candidate avoids the challenges, and wins the nomination almost by acclamation.

    This is, after all, a candidate who has a following and an organization already, as well as a tv audience. With Romney being so thouroughly hated by so many Republicans, this candidate could probably win primaries as a write-in, and the candidate has always been a good deal smarter than the image he had.

    Yes, he. I wasn't talking about the Baroness Munchhausen but about the other Governor, and probable nominee -- Mike Huckabee. (Who is as crazy as Bachmann or Palin, but hides it better.)

  • BoulderBo on October 12, 2011 11:16 AM:

    John B - your comparison to 1968 is, I think, wildly off the mark and has little to do with the current state of politics. Keep in mind Bobby Kennedy most likely would have beaten Nixon had he not been assassinated, giving the WH to the dems. Also, George Wallace was a strong third candidate who captured over 13% of the vote. Humphrey and Nixon vote totals were pretty close; I remember watching the votes come in and they were both at 42% most of the night before Nixon pulled away late with western votes (43.4 - 42.7).

  • John B. on October 12, 2011 12:13 PM:

    BoulderBo: Yes, the popular vote totals were close in 1968. That only underscores my point. Obama needs the greater share of those he excited in 2008 to win in 2012 because next year's election will be close, too. My sense of it is that he won't get more than a small fraction of them to come back to his fold.

    The "current state of politics" certainly is different -- along with the economy, the Cold War, the digital technology, the social networking, the army draft, the fast food industry, the cable TV news, the calendar on the wall, etc. etc. etc. That will always be true. Every election is in some sense unique.

    But human voters, party tribalism, and the reaction of young idealists when they are sorely disappointed by a politician they trusted haven't changed all that much. It still amazes that Nixon -- whom even Eisenhower despised and whose political corpse Nixon himself publicly buried in 1962 -- won the presidency just six years later.

    It never would have happened if LBJ hadn't alienated so many who voted for him 1964. I know of no better example in our history of a sudden deflation of popular voter support for a sitting president facing reelection other than, perhaps, John Quincy Adams in 1828.

  • doubtful on October 12, 2011 1:18 PM:

    "Like a stool, a successful debater is supported by three legs: Intelligence, education, and charisma." -DAY

    Like a stool, the Republican candidates are synonymous with excrement.

  • majun on October 12, 2011 1:53 PM:

    the Republican presidential nomination will go to a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change, and who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act

    Just leave out the "Mormon" stuff (we Americans like to think that we are beyond religious prejudice), and print up a couple of million copies - what a campaign poster that will make. I used to think that Bachmann was Obama's dream opponent, but the more I consider Romney, the more I think he is the ideal. I imagine a debate where the moderator asks each candidate what they consider their most notable accomplishment while in public office. Obama will have a hard time just because of the wealth of choices he will have. What is Romney's response? "I laid the foundation for the Affordable Care Act." Or maybe he will go back to touting his his brilliant managerial skills, as evidenced by "the big dig". Loser.

  • sparrow on October 12, 2011 2:02 PM:

    A trivial point, but it occurs to me that if Romney wins the nomination and were to win the general, it will be the second time in our history that an actor is President. He's again in the same play but this time around is trying to play a different character.

  • Herschel on October 12, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Obama needs the greater share of those he excited in 2008 to win in 2012 because next year's election will be close, too.

    I think this will turn out not to be so. Obama by more than five points in the popular vote.

  • Bill on October 12, 2011 5:52 PM:

    Reading many of the responses here scares me. I completely don't understand support of the current president. I am confused how an objective examination of the current situation brings one to support of BHO. Four more years of him may be enough to prostrate the USA. God forbid he gets re-elected.

  • ps613 on October 12, 2011 8:17 PM:

    Benen is spot on. Romneys opponents are weak. Like one on the Democratic side he is going to tear to pieces

  • MaxAR15 on October 12, 2011 9:58 PM:

    If Mitt is the Republican choice then I just cannot back him with my vote and no one in my family will be voting for him either. Mitt may have good hair, be really slick in the debates with all of the right lines, but there is no way on this good earth I could live with myself casting my vote for him.

    With my views of pro life, VERY PRO GUN, very small government, do not agree with MMGW, and no safe cities like here in Princeton and lastly I'm not in favor of Obama care that leaves Mittens out and Chris Christie too. As I say, open a can of Jersey Republican and out comes a Democrat.

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