At Reagan’s House
The Gipper can’t rate the candidates, but our panel does.



There was a theme at the debate at the Reagan Library, one that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, in particular, pushed: We all want an alternative to Barack Obama. Increasingly, American voters are with them — that is, the GOP field. You saw some credible options on that stage.

Rick Santorum is good at these debates. He’s a resource the next Republican president ought to call upon. One who knows Washington and is discerning about the stewardship responsibilities of its leaders.

There wasn’t a whole lot of Michele Bachmann at the Reagan Library. While everyone points that out, it’s worth remembering how impressive she was from the word “Go,” since announcing her run. (I tweeted a fantasy sisterhood moment.)

The best moments of this week in debating/forum-ing? Herman Cain being asked about marriage and poverty at the Palmetto Freedom Forum, and Rick Santorum talking about welfare reform at the Reagan Library, when asked about how his faith influences his treatment of the poor as a policy matter. This is a whole different look at what social justice is and should and can be.

Romney was gracious and wise to not go after Perry on the Gardasil issue, even though it certainly would have been justified. He demonstrated an attractive restraint.

Ditto Newt Gingrich on school choice. (And a reminder to say: Thank you, John Boehner, for restoring the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program when the president wouldn’t.)

Other strong moments: the humane tone of the conversation Santorum and Gingrich pushed on immigration.

Weak media moment: The immigration question had to be outsourced to Telemundo?

Lingering question: Did the audience really applaud Perry’s record on the death penalty?

Less important but still lingering question: How did the Reagan Library come to embrace MSNBC for a GOP debate? I could see, say, Robert P. George more naturally there asking questions of the Republican candidates.

Free advice: Everyone needs to listen to Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan communicate, expecially on Social Security. Romney knows the wisdom in that. Perry may learn it.

Some Americans are likely asking this morning: Can’t we just have a night with Perry and Romney having it out?

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and tweets at @kathrynlopez.



The news media really don’t get Rick Perry and his appeal to Republicans. The questions designed to undermine him (Social Security, death penalty, creationism, etc.) strengthened him with Republicans. Mainly, they liked what he said and how he said it. Perry’s a natural, like the man whose library served as a backdrop. No question Perry’s problem will be in finding enough swing voters in Purple states to create an Electoral College majority; being deeply Red probably isn’t enough, even in a strong GOP year, and the stereotype of Perry as “Bush on steroids” was proven true. As usual, Romney turned in an acceptable performance, but he appealed to the head, not the heart. Romney’s nomination depends heavily on Republicans’ coming to the conclusion that Perry cannot beat Obama — and the polls are going to have to show this clearly, month after month. Obama is not cooperating with the Romney “remainder” strategy, since POTUS is sinking steadily. Michele Bachmann got little time when it mattered, and is proving how deadly is the combination of gravity and inertia. Newt is winning applause but not votes. Jon Huntsman (R., News Media) got caught in a trap laid by his own campaign manager; he’s going nowhere. Paul will keep but not expand his 10 to 15 percent. Santorum and Cain didn’t break out. On to the next two debates — and the long roller-coaster ride before a victor is crowned.

— Larry J. Sabato is director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.