Romney got the better of Perry on points in GOP debate, but it may not matter in the long run

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.


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