My take on last night’s Republican presidential debate is that Rick Perry’s unforced error on the issue of Social Security handed Mitt Romney a victory on points, but I’m not sure that the Texas governor thereby did great harm to his chances of winning the GOP nomination.
Perry doubled-down on his claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme — in essence, a criminal operation — when he could have finessed the issue, as Romney did. This stuff isn’t going to play well with elderly voters, especially in a general-election campaign.
But David Gergen, in a post-debate comment on CNN, correctly noted that Perry’s persistence in condemning Social Security showed a certain “muscularity” in his rhetoric that likely appeals to the GOP’s dominant right-wing base. In other words, Perry’s style is his trump card, especially as compared with Romney’s more button-down demeanor.
Chris Matthews on MSNBC added that Perry did himself no great harm last night and remains a good bet, as a champion of the Religious Right, to prevail over the Mormon Romney in GOP primaries in the Bible Belt of the nation’s South.
As for the other contestants in the debate — Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum — none of them has a ghost of a chance to win the nomination. The only significant role any of them can play is in needling Perry or Romney with effective jibes. Paul and Huntsman both did a little of that last night.
One final note: The weirdest thing in last night’s debate was the enthusiastic applause from the audience at Perry’s proud defense of the regularity with which Texas executes people. It was a response better suited to the Colosseum in ancient Rome than to a forum of 21st century American politicians.