The Republican candidates for president took to the podium Thursday night in their sixth debate of the campaign season. The location of Orlando, FL was quite fitting, as this nine-ring circus was about as entertaining as anything at Disneyworld.
The current pack of GOP hopefuls mainly consists of a bunch of under-qualified loons, led by cracked Tea Pot queen Michele Bachmann. And I say "current" because I still believe there's more acts to come, like Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki and yes, maybe even Chris Christie.
The main draw was the rematch between the two front-runners, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. As in the previous debates, Romney came out the big overall winner. Not because he presented anything substantive in terms of fixing the economy and reducing unemployment, but because he projects the most presidential persona. But that's a fairly easy feat to achieve when your opponents are like the patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
Perry and Romney battled over Social Security, healthcare, immigration and the factual accuracy of what's contained in their respective books. The sparring was so fierce at some points that it prompted former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.--the only true president in the bunch--to joke that these two were at risk of bludgeoning each other to death.
My favorite Perry moment came when he screwed up his well-crafted smack down of Romney's relentless flip-flopping. He got so tongue-tied that it was embarrassing. "Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of — against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it — was before — he was before the social programs from the standpoint of — he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against first — Roe v. Wade?" WTF, was he medicated?! Kinda makes you think of that other articulate Texas statesman, George W. Bush, who infamously opined, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." And while he may be a rough and tough cowboy down in Texas, this verbal gaffe painfully highlighted his lack of sparring skills on the national stage. He utterly blew a well-rehearsed moment where he should've decimated Romney.
My second favorite Perry moment came when, under attack over his state's college tuition assistance program for the children of illegal aliens, he said to those who who oppose it that "I don't think you have a heart." When a guy who's heartless on every other social and entitlement issue claims you have no heart then you must be the freakin' Tin Man.
The truth is, both Perry and Romney emerged as big winners. Perry, who stands no real chance of winning the nomination, likely scored big with his radical fringe base: Tea Baggers who wish to eliminate taxes, the EPA, the Department of Education, Social Security, Medicare, all government regulation and any traces of sanity. The crazier he sounds, the more they love him. Romney no doubt gained traction with moderates and independents...the people who actually elect presidents.
The real trouble for Perry, even with his base, is that he needs to decide which role he wants government to play in their lives. When he seeks federal aid for border security, or when he unilaterally imposes a mandatory vaccination for 12-year-old girls to prevent cervical cancer, he clearly seems to favor government intervention. When the subject is taxes, regulation and entitlements he's a different Rick Perry. It can't cut both ways. It'll further confuse the easily confusable Tea Baggers.
As for the other candidates, I'll quickly sum up their performances:
-Huntsman: smart, knowledgeable, experienced, funny, rational, moderate, sane
-Bachmann: the complete opposite of Huntsman
-Newt Gingrich: more smug and ruthlessly partisan than the 90's version of himself
-Rick Santorum: way too angry and combative to be taken seriously
-Herman Cain: please stop saying "wif" instead of "with." That's not presidential
-Ron Paul: grass roots hero who needs campaign root canal
-Gary Johnson: really bad hair, dude. Maybe it got all messed up while crawling out from whatever rock you've been under?