There is a reason frontrunners duck debates: They are great levelers. They homogenize candidates on the same plane, bringing the bottom up and the top down. Rick Perry came into this debate Wednesday night as the frontrunner, an electable, conservative alternative to Romney. First, his mandate, forcing 12-year-old girls to take the HPV vaccine, will hang around his neck as “Perrycare.” Second, his Ponzi-scheme caricature of Social Security, despite the upcoming media furor, won’t hurt him — because Americans know it is true: There is no “fund” in the Social Security Fund, just a bankrupt, intergenerational transfer of wealth. However, Perry went farther than that. He implied that if he could go back 70 years to undo Social Security, he would. That is scary stuff for American seniors. And that matters. Republicans have one and only one litmus test this year: They have to put up a candidate who will beat Barack Obama. If Perry damages his electability, if he fades in head-to-head match-ups with Barack Obama, he will become Michele Bachmann. Iowa will become a horse race on the right. That’s good news for Mitt Romney, the winner of Wednesday night’s debate.
— Alex Castellanos is a Republican media consultant.
Why are Republican presidential candidates debating on left-wing MSNBC with NBC’s Brian Williams and Politico’s John Harris moderating? Here is a way to put this in perspective: In August, Gallup released its latest survey of “political ideology” in America. It revealed that 41 percent of Americans say they are conservatives, 36 percent say they are moderates, and only 21 percent say they are liberals. This small liberal minority documented by Gallup cannot and will not control the outcome of the 2012 presidential election — let alone the Republican presidential nomination — even if it does continue to control establishment media organizations such as MSNBC, NBC, and Politico, and even if it remains (as it manifestly does) absolutely committed to using its leverage in the media to protect liberal politicians and liberal policies and, most especially, the presidency of Barack Obama.
The truth is: Republican primary voters need to pick the candidate most capable of rolling back the cumulative impact of almost 80 years of liberal policies that have brought this great nation — built on the premises of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and traditional morality — to the brink of ruin. MSNBC and Politico should not be sponsoring Republican debates; they are among the liberal political adversaries Republicans need to defeat.
— Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews.
What is it with Texans and “justice”? Perry Wednesday night warned perpetrators of heinous crimes in his state that they would face “the ultimate justice,” meaning death by execution. Maybe that’s what George W. meant when he kept vowing to bring bin Laden to justice. In any case, it was a good moment for him. But the euphemism sounds strange to believers in a just God who reserves for Himself the assignment of penalties of “ultimate” justice, far worse, necessarily, than mere physical death.
There were other slightly comic moments in a fairly serious and fairly entertaining debate. It left me with the impression that Romney and Perry are running for president and everyone else (except Ron Paul) for president’s best friend, cabinet member, or state-dinner guest.
It was a useful display not only of the varieties of (sometimes half-formed) conservative opinion, but of the unifying and increasingly powerful orthodoxies of the Right’s critique of liberalism. Would that any of the candidates could better and more persuasively connect that critique to the deep sources of American principle and patriotism. Oh well, there will be other debates . . .
— Charles R. Kesler is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, editor of the Claremont Review of Books, and professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.