I watch the Republican presidential debates as I do Animal Planet. By that I do not mean that the various candidate are dogs, only that I have to bear in mind that as a non-right-wing Republican — the audience that really matters — I am the somewhat-puzzled outsider and what I think is happening may not actually be the case. For instance, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney won the latest debate hands down because he sounded confident, assured, prepared, reasonable and totally in command. That could kill him in Iowa.
I always have to remind myself that Rick Perry came into the race as the total conservative package — pious, reactionary and even proposing to repeal the constitutional amendments that require the popular election of U.S. senators and permit the income tax. Amazingly, though, Perry was instantly attacked from the right. His quite sensible positions regarding immigration, the schooling of the children of illegal immigrants and the inoculation of prepubescent girls to prevent cervical cancer, were condemned over and over. For this and other reasons, he has plummeted in the polls. The other animals sensed weakness.
With this in mind, I wondered if Michele Bachmann was saying something profoundly meaningful when she noted that Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan was 6-6-6 upside down. Bachman is a religious reactionary and 666 is sometimes seen as the numeric sign of the devil. I laughed at her numbers game — the devil’s in the details, she said — but did she mean something more by it? In the darkest precincts of Iowa, where like-minded Republicans gather, did they nod at her reference: Ah, Cain, you devil, you.
Cain was the focus of much attention. He’s smart and glib and shallow — a true American provincial who wears his ignorance of foreign affairs as an attribute. But, once again, I have to understand that this is a political Animal Planet show and others might find his simplicity attractive. As far as I’m concerned, Cain has no business running for president. He’s never held elective office. But that, I have to remind myself, could commend him to voters who think all politicians are corrupt and the less you know, the wiser you are . . . somehow.
As for Perry, he has skipped the presidency entirely and gone straight to being a statue. He was wooden and robotic, convincingly unprepared for prime time. Over and over, he returned to his energy plan, which is not just a plan, but a hope, a dream and, it seems, the entirety of his platform. Beneath the great and wonderful American soil is a vast storehouse of energy — oil and gas — and if only the pesky environmentalists would get out of the way, the US of A would be on easy street again. Aside from that, he had nothing to say and he seemed — let’s not beat around the Bush here — just plain thick. If he belongs in the White House, it’s as a waiter for state dinners.
Jon Huntsman is handicapped by a sardonic sense of humor. I like it, but it will not work. American political humor must be self-deprecating, not targeted at someone else. Huntsman quipped that Cain’s 9-9-9 plan sounded like the price of a pizza — a double-dig since Cain had once been CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. Cain seemed to wince, probably making Huntsmen seem mean.
As for the others — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — I saw nothing I had not seen before. But I cannot catch the right-wing scents, the lift of the tail, the dropping of the head — all the signs that can suddenly turn a nonentity into an alpha candidate. It seemed to me that Mitt Romney was that person, but what do I know? Every dog has his day.
More on the debate from PostOpinions