Can Rick Perry debate? Does Santorum still exist?


One thumb up! (Willis Glassgow/Associated Press)

But the question that seems to be lingering at the forefront of everyone’s mind is this:

Can Rick Perry debate?

How will Perry play on the national stage?

It is possible that Perry will do very well. It is also possible that he will do something like this, where someone asked him about Texas’s abstinence education. I am no expert in debate. But I would venture that the answer “I’m gonna tell you from my own personal uh, life, abstinence works,” is not quite what the occasion demanded.

He may not have many opportunities to do this during the debate, although maybe Romney can work in a subtle dig in one of his answers.

But it is essential that we establish beforehand where the bar is for Rick Perry’s debating, because if some people think the bar is that he gazes winningly into the camera, grins and fails to accuse anyone of treason, and other people think it is that he offers a coherent jobs plan in under two minutes, some of those people are bound to be disappointed.

Some bar is called for. After all, Perry is the front-runner. Of Mitt Romney the Front-Runner, we asked the impossible. Explain Real-World Economics to us while maintaining a consistent position on health care and appearing competent, yet relatable, and wearing ties but not too many ties! What’s Perry’s standard?

That remains to be seen.

For the next 14 months, we still have a warranty on these folks. Sixty-five percent of Republicans are now satisfied with the field.

Now it’s time to experiment.

“My mouth liked it,” the electorate says, “but my stomach is still making up its mind.”

This sweater looked awfully nice in the window, but how does it look with the furniture?

There’s still plenty of time to return it. Romney the front-runner was good for some amusing anecdotes — remember those pizzas he sent to the Obama campaign headquarters? We know how he fits. Now it’s time to take Perry out for a spin.

Currently, Perry and Romney are fairly evenly split.

Perry leads, 27 percent to Romney’s 22. But Romney is far from out of the game.

Perry appeals more to Southerners by a factor of nearly 2 to 1. Romney appeals more to women. Perry appears more to the over-50 crowd. Romney appeals more to the over-$75,000 income crowd. Old women who make $75,000 exactly are left at a loss.

This debate will put the two in contrast. Admittedly, the Republican field looks as though it’s performing its traditional maneuver of winnowing a diverse group of dynamic individuals with lots of contrast down to two, 50-something white male ex-governors whose lack of contrast makes you worry you need to readjust some filter on your set. Are you more excited by a 180-page glossy jobs plan or by shouts of treason? Your answer probably determines whom you’ll pick as the winner tonight. Unless Michele Bachmann does something dynamic or Ron Paul reveals that he was Sarah Palin all along, or Rick Santorum transforms into a giant green Hulk — no, I’m sorry, even that would not induce anyone to pay attention to Rick Santorum. In fact I think he did that in the last debate.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".

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