Debate Post-Mortem
September 23rd, 2011

Rick Perry had a pretty tough night; the worst moment of which was his attempt to paint Romney as a flip-flopper which meandered and faltered, eventually making Perry look tired, confused, and old. It was pretty grim. But I’m not sure it was more than a tactical victory for Romney, because Bachman keeps shrinking and Perry wasn’t structurally harmed. So the essential dynamic of the race remains.

(For the record, Romney had three–I counted!–moments where he genuinely seemed like a real human being and would have fooled even the most sophisticated Voight-Kampf test. Also, he had one truly great line: “I want everybody to be rich.” Pitch perfect.)

But here’s the problem with Romney: Perry landed one solid blow on him, the line about Romney removing a line on healthcare from the hardcover to the paperback edition. (How’s that for detailed oppo?) Romney’s response was to claim that this simply wasn’t true, implying that Perry was either confused or a liar.

Yet in the spin room immediately after the debate, a Romney aid quickly fessed up that actually, it was Romney who was wrong. Perry was right. The line he quoted had been deleted from one edition to the other. The problem for Romney is that for a guy who has such a command of everything else at the debate, it’s hard to believe that he was just confused on this point. It seems much more likely that he was bald-facedly lying.

Which wouldn’t, in itself, be a problem. All politicians lie. (Wouldn’t you like to see some evidentiary proof of Rick Santorum ever having stood at the Texas-Mexico border?) Except that part of the whole rap against Romney is that he’s been lying about everything since the day he first decided to seek elective office back in 1994. This latest little debate fib just feeds into the underlying problems with his trustworthiness as a candidate. So far as I can tell, nearly every Romney supporter in the conservative establishment makes their peace with the idea of being on Team Romney by thinking to themselves, “Well, he’s on our side now, so at least he’ll stay bought.” Unlike all those other times when he flipped.

And maybe he will. Maybe this time will be different.

Caveat: I feel compelled, again, to reiterate that I don’t have anything against Romney personally. In fact, I think one of the great mysteries about him is why his political persona seems so crazily divorced from his real character. Here’s a guy who has been married forever, seems to have a great family; and seems to engender nothing by admiration in those he encounters in life. (I know a bunch of people who’ve worked for him or around him; to a person, they all like him.) But he has this weird political persona where he acts like a snake when he runs for office. He’s the mirror-opposite of the typical politician. It’s a conundrum.

PS: Between the audience cheering over the death penalty a couple debates ago, and then cheering the idea of letting the hypothetical young guy with the deadly disease who chose not to buy insurance die (was that the same debate? I forget), and then last night booing the out-and-proud gay soldier, it’s enough to make you think Republican voters are kind of unserious and mean-spirited. Or at least make you really, really uncomfortable.

  1. avidus September 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I struggled with my views on Romney until I realized he is first and foremost a businessman and cannot shake that. Speaking as a businessman your primarily role is to develop and market products and services that your customers want. It is your job to change what and how you sell depending on how your customers change. There’s nothing nefarious or sinister about it, that’s simply business 101; and the better your are at changing the better you are at business. There are certainly exceptions but I’ll suggest that’s the way for the vast majority.

    Now apply such to politics. You change what you offer, views depending on what your customer, constituent wants. So when in New England you’re pro-abortion, pro-union, pro-socialized medicine and anti-gun but when you’re running nationally for the republicans you switch. And when you can’t out right wing your opponent, governor Perry, you move left claiming it makes you more electable.

    Governor Romney doesn’t bother me anymore as I’ve a worked hypothesis that explains his behavior. That’s not to suggest I want him President given he has never taken and kept a difficult position in his political life but it means I’m not pulling out what little hair I have when I watch how he operates.

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  3. SkinsFanPG September 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Avidus: decent explanation, but it doesn’t account for the many businessmen who have successfully entered politics without the pandering. Romney’s problem, and the problem his supporters simply refuse to acknowledge, is that he is a terrible politician. He is unquestionably the most unsuccessful politician around these days with such a high-profile.

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  5. avidus September 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I agree, that’s why I suggested he’s a businessman first and cannot shake that.

    Other businessman have a set of core values that they’re not willing to compromise on even if it costs them business. Such attributes make them better politicians as the temptations to compromise increase exponentially once entering the political realm.

    Speaking as a businessman my values have caused me much trouble over the years but I’m simply not willing to compromise on them. I can, and I’d imagine most of us can, think quite quickly of businessmen and women who have no principles and have been quite successful because of that. I believe that’s the type governor Romney represents.

    That’s the type I don’t like to work with and that’s the type I really don’t want to vote for.

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  7. Jason O. September 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Debate Moderator: “Mr. Romney, describe in detail the things you remember about your mother.”

    Romney: “My mother? Let me tell you about my Mother……”

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  9. mrmandias September 27, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I can, and I’d imagine most of us can, think quite quickly of businessmen and women who have no principles and have been quite successful because of that. I believe that’s the type governor Romney represents.

    I really, really doubt that this is the case with Romney. He has strong uncompromisable core values, almost certainly–its just they’re religious and not political ones.

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  11. Rick Perry. Rick Ankiel. Abortion. — Jonathan Last Online November 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    […] damaged Perry was (a) He was too liberal on immigration; and (b) He had two debate moments (his attempted flip-flop attack on Romney and the Lost Third Agency) in which he looked old and doddering and […]