The Big Conversation:
The verdict's in: Rick Perry passed, but didn't ace, his first test.
So say observers of Wednesday night's GOP debate, which centered largely on Perry and threw into sharp relief his strengths and weaknesses as a presidential candidate while he attempts to take hold of his new-found status as Republican front-runner.
As the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw and Jay Root report, the debate at times looked like The Rick Perry Show, with most of the candidates on stage aiming their criticism at the governor and moderators asking many questions on Perry-centric issues like job creation in Texas, the governor's book Fed Up! and his 2007 executive order requiring vaccination against the human papillomavirus.
"I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party," Perry said at one point.
Perry, as The Washington Post notes, came out swinging in an early spat over jobs with Mitt Romney, his chief rival, and later adeptly handled questions about the death penalty and gun control. He also held his own in a tussle with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who said Perry wrote a letter in the 1990s supporting first lady Hillary Clinton's health care plan.
But Perry's response to a question about global warming, in which he compared Galileo to climate change skeptics, has drawn ridicule. And in perhaps his most pointed response of the night, Perry doubled down on his critique of Social Security as outlined in Fed Up!, calling it a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie to our kids."
Romney seized on Perry's remark. “Governor … you say that by any measure, Social Security is a failure,’’ Romney said. “You can't say that to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security. … Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security.’’
Republican strategist Mike Murphy called Perry's performance "lumpy," adding, “He knows very well how to push primary hot buttons, which makes him formidable, but I think his performance greatly reinforced the rapidly building fears the professional and finance elites in the party have about him as a potential nominee.”
Perry's continued criticism of Social Security could also pose an electability problem for him, as Nate Silver of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog notes.
Other quick takes on the night: The Houston Chronicle called it for Romney, who "was on message and in command of the facts. He has rapid rebuttals to attacks on his job-creation record as governor and his health-reform plan." Erick Erickson of RedState said, "Romney had a stronger performance — the strongest of anyone on stage in fact. But then, Romney has been in this dog and pony show since 2007." And as the Post's Ezra Klein put it: "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."
- Before Wednesday night's debate, President Obama placed a phone call to Gov. Rick Perry to offer condolences about the wildfires still ravaging the state. The White House said Obama pledged federal assistance with recovery efforts.
- U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has reportedly been considering joining the crowded race to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but it's so far been unclear what kind of threat he might pose to the race's other leading Republicans. The Trib's Ross Ramsey says a combination of vast personal wealth and an ability to appeal to establishment and Tea Party Republicans could make McCaul a viable contender.
- A new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Texas ranks second in the nation, behind only Mississippi, in percentage of citizens facing hunger. In 2010, more than 4 million Texans, or 18 percent, went hungry or altered their eating habits to avoid hunger, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
“Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks, so I’m not responsible for Karl anymore.” — Rick Perry, at Wednesday night's debate, on Karl Rove, who has recently criticized the governor for his rhetoric. (Ben Smith of Politico later tweeted, "I emailed Rove about Perry's shot at him in the debate. 'Missed it,' he replies.")
- Drought, Wildfires Haven't Changed Perry's Climate-Change Views, NPR
- Rising Fears of Recession, The New York Times
- N.H. May Be Perry's Chance to Deliver Knockout Blow, RealClearPolitics