Will the real Rick Perry please stand up?

at 06:30 AM ET, 09/08/2011


Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, left, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry answer a question during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library Wednesday in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was at times dazzling and at times deficient during his first debate Wednesday night.

The newly emergent frontrunner survived an early back-and-forth with Mitt Romney and was strong on the death penalty and jobs, showing the kind of conservative bona fides he is known for.

But we also saw a side of Perry that wasn’t as polished and could come back to bite him, particularly when it came to climate change and Social Security.

Perry, who despite a long career in elective office is not well tested in debates, came out of the debate with his frontrunner status intact, but very fair questions that will linger about his overall candidacy.

One of those questions is whether he can survive the detailed policy discussions. Challenged Wednesday to talk about which climate scientists he most agreed with in his doubts about global warming, Perry stumbled through a pained response that included a comparison between global warming doubters and Galileo.

While doubting global warming won’t necessarily hurt him in a Republican primary, the exchange showed that Perry can get tripped up. While he may have clear the bar set for his first debate, he also showed he can stumble in a way that Romney has not.

Which brings us to Social Security. Perry stuck by his previous assertion that the entitlement program amounts to a “Ponzi scheme,” which opened the door for Romney to go after the senior vote.

“Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but saving it,” Romney said.

Perry appears to have a genuine belief about Social Security as a program, but whatever you think about his stance, it polls broadly unpopular and could even cost him in a Republican primary if his opponents play it right. This is not a position you see even many tea party candidates espousing on the campaign trail, and there’s a reason for that.

Romney effectively painted Perry as being anti-Social Security rather than pro-Social Security reform, and Perry didn’t offer much of a retort.

“It was lumpy,” GOP strategist Mike Murphy said of Perry’s performance. “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.”

Apart from those two instances, though, Perry largely passed the test.

He defined the jobs debate early by focusing on the limited job growth that occurred on Massachusetts under Romney – attacking Romney directly before Romney could attack him directly.

Perry also shined when asked about the death penalty and gun control – two issues where he will be right there with any of this opponents.

“In the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear,” Perry said. “And they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.”

Republicans strategist Curt Anderson said any concept of Perry dropping the ball is overblown.

“I think Perry seemed comfortable in his own skin,” Anderson said. “I don’t buy the uneven notion. I believe there is a massive gulf between what the media thinks and what the primary voters think.”

The question for Perry going forward – and with plenty of debates still set between now and the Iowa caucuses – is whether he can avoid the kind of stumble he had on the global warming question and whether his Social Security stance is tenable.

Perry’s supporters may well be on board with his position on both of those issues, and overall he handled himself well, but his performance also confirmed some of his vulnerabilities going forward.

(And for our extensive winners and losers post, see The Fix’s post last night.)

Gallups shows Obama slipping among Hispanics: More than any other racial group. Latinos have soured on President Obama.

Gallup polling shows Obama’s approval among Hispanics dropping to 48 percent for the month of August. That’s down from a high of 82 percent early in his presidency.

That 34-point drop is bigger than his decline among whites (25 percent) and African-Americans (8 percent) and could have a big effect on the 2012 elections, given that Latinos have shown a willingness to vote for the right kind of Republican.

Perry voted for Reagan: Despite supporting Al Gore in the 1988 presidential race, Perry voted for Ronald Reagan twice, according to a spokesman.

The spokesman, Ray Sullivan, told MSNBC Thursday that the then-Democratic state legislator Perry nonetheless voted for the GOP presidential candidate in 1980 and 1984.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) this week began running an ad making hay of Perry’s support for Gore in the 1988 presidential race.

Some Republicans skipping Obama speech: Two senators and a handful of House members are not planning to attend Obama's address to Congress tomorrow night — whether or not they have other plans.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has a football party to attend back home. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said he was too “frustrated” with the president to go; he’ll be meeting with Boeing officials instead.

Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) announced last week that he wasn’t interested in being a “prop” for the president. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) will watch from across the street, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is not planning to attend.

On the other hand, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has struck a conciliatory tone, saying today: “I think we need to build consensus, and that’s going to require us all not to impugn motives or to question patriotism.”

Fixbits:

New York 9th district special election candidate David Weprin (D) touts his New York Times endorsement and ties GOP opponent Bob Turner to the tea party in a new ad.

Turner says he was joking when he said at a forum that he hadn’t met a tax loophole he didn’t like.

Erick Erickson is over Sarah Palin.

Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) has decided to run in a primary against freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke (D), rather than against longtime Rep. Sandy Levin (D). Much of Peters’s territory is in Levin’s more suburban district in the GOP’s redistricting map, but Clarke is running in a much different district than he has now.

There won’t be a primary between Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Tom McClintock (R).

Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) spent last night’s debate live-tweeting the History Channel.

Must-reads:

GOP’s Special (Races) Treatment” — Reid Wilson, National Journal

Ohio residents frustrated with economy and politicians” — Mark Z. Barabak, L.A. Times

Oil drilling in the Everglades has long history” — Craig Pittman, St. Petersburg Times

Obama jobs plan could cost $300 billion” — Scott Wilson, Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics.com

Perry, Romney clash on jobs, Social Security

The Reagan Library Republican debate: Winners and Losers

Interactive: GOP Debate analysis

 
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