by Jason Johnson, Chief Political Correspondent
One of the best things you can do when watching a presidential debate is to completely avoid any and all news coverage and analysis of the debate right afterwards. Form your own opinion first, sleep on the night’s activities and then spout off whatever you think the next day. I’m particularly glad I did that with last night’s Western Republican debate in Nevada on CNN because what I saw happening and what many other press outlets saw was completely different.
What I saw was Perry’s pathetic last gasp, a good job by Mitt Romney and Herman Cain shrinking back into obscurity.
Over at Politico Maggie Haberman notes that Perry has gotten back into the race with his feisty assault on Mitt Romney and finally drew blood for the first time in their exchange over illegal immigration.
Perry brought up that old scandal from 2008 when Romney had hired a landscaping firm for his property that hired illegals. His response as to this: “For Pete’s Sake I can’t have illegals, I’m running for office!” and subsequent firing of the company are going to be a major talking point going forward.
But, really? Come on kids, it’s 2011, unemployment is at 9%, we’re embroiled in two wars and there are middle class White kids occupying major cities over corporate corruption. The whole “you-hired-an-illegal” scandal is so 2000’s.
Besides it’s not like Romney had illegals working for him as maids or housekeepers. He hired a landscaping firm that happened to have illegal employees (shocker!) and when he found out he cut ties with the company. Perry looked desperate bringing up the issue and it merely solidified the impression that he is not ready for real debates now – or anytime in the near future. What happened to “Texas Miracle” Perry who created more jobs in one state than Obama had in the entire country? He was doing a much better job of staying on message when he first got into this campaign.
Don’t know about you, but Herman Cain only reinforced my belief that he is the black Steve Forbes with his relatively weak debate and less than stellar answers. The first 20 minutes of the debate were a frat level pile-on about his 9-9-9 plan and he didn’t do a good job of showing the kind of verbal jujitsu that a top tier candidate needs to have in order to defend their signature policy initiative. I don’t know if he didn’t have major debate prep or not, but his major retort to the criticism was that his opponents were talking “apples and oranges.” He didn’t appear to have any powerful one-two punches for the critiques of his plan which were really easy to anticipate if he had a quality economic adviser on his campaign. Note to Herman: take some of those book royalties and hire one.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum managed to say a little something about Mitt Romney. But for the most part he swatted them down like the annoying political gnats that they’ve become. In fact, the only second tier candidate who made significant face time was Michelle Bachmann, who was on message the whole time about ending “Obamacare” and building a fence to stop illegals – but she always seemed to deliver a line that was one or two beats behind where the debate was going at the moment. For example, her attack on Obama’s family actually got a few boos from the audience.
All in all, nothing changed after this debate and Mitt Romney’s path to the nomination seems as clear as ever. Was he bloodied up a bit? Not really. While some of the attacks on him were credible the attackers – Perry, Santorum and Gingrich – were not. So, he managed to wiggle away and survive another day in ways that won’t work against Obama in a debate. Stay tuned till November when the next, and likely final, substantive debate occurs.