Tea with Your Debate
About last night in Florida.


CNN and the Tea Party Express held a Republican debate in Florida last night. NRO’s experts analyze the results.

My sense is that Rick Perry got quite battered on Monday night, and the problem ran beyond people “piling on.” He could have had something better to say about granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens or their children. But faced with the challenge, he could do nothing but repeat the same lines — the lines that didn’t quite explain his decision or move that audience.

Perry was beaten up once again on mandatory HPV inoculations for teenage girls in Texas. I’ve heard from friends a better defense than the one he offered — a defense that involves the distinct vulnerability of girls, a vulnerability far more serious than that of boys. When Michele Bachmann expressed outrage over dealing with the young people in school and bypassing the parents, he might have asked: Why would you assume that the parents would not be informed and not discuss this matter with their daughters? If parents were given the “opt out” as he said, they surely would have been informed. But the decisive point there was made by Rick Santorum: Why should it have been an “opt out”? Why was the presumption set on the side of giving the inoculations, with the burden put on those who would go to the trouble of filling out the forms and making a positive decision to “opt out.”

In the Labor Day forum in South Carolina, Michele Bachmann, in response to Prof. Robert George, insisted that Mitt Romney was quite wrong on health care: It was wrong, even within a state, to compel a person to buy a policy for medical insurance. George asked her about the constitutional ground on which that claim to liberty would be made against the legislative power of the state. She said that she was sure he would “enlighten her.” In other words, she hasn’t thought it through — even though that position runs counter to all of her declamations about the Tenth Amendment. I happen to think she has it right. But I’m not clear on whether she is aware that she has a serious contradiction or that she is quite aware, but finessing things.

But the main feeling that emerged from Monday night was relief and satisfaction when Newt Gingrich spoke. He was tonight, as he’s been on other occasions, the sharpest and the quickest. He had also clearly decided on this stance: He would not take part in any scheme of questioning or provocation that would set the candidates against each other in a way that would leave the survivor damaged for the election. He would refer several times to Rick Santorum, in the work they did together in Congress, and that elicited reciprocating gestures from Rick — all sustaining a sense of camaraderie, not cattiness. And in one of his best moves, he shot back at Jon Huntsman for suggesting that Perry and Romney, in their tense exchanges, could be scaring the voters looking on. Newt responded aptly that the public should be far more scared by Barack Obama than by exchanges between Romney and Perry.

I spoke too sharply, and not with the civility I should try to preserve, when I remarked last week that Jon Huntsman is a sanctimonious nasty man. I regret that I said it, but Monday night’s debate confirmed yet again how true it is.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

Hopes were high for Rick Perry going into his first debate. By almost any measure, he underperformed. John Harris staggered him with a question about climate change.

The word on Perry is that he learns. He proved the scouting report is true. The governor performed dramatically better this time around. At almost every point he was more comfortable, had a sense of humor, and seemed less brittle. His only real error was extending the discussion about his decision to require HPV vaccinations in Texas. He started out right by simply admitting a mistake, but he couldn’t stop explaining himself. It was a self-inflicted minor wound.

Bachmann gamely dogged Perry’s steps, trying to take back the position she had before he entered the race. She had some success but undercut herself by adamantly insisting that no state government can constitutionally require citizens to purchase insurance, a point which is clearly incorrect.

Huntsman regressed. His attempts at humor were awkward and flat. He found a nice theme about domestic nation building, but it was too late to make much noise.

It’s a little tough to watch Mitt Romney. His front-runner status was short-lived. He clearly needed Perry to stumble so he could pounce, but that moment didn’t arrive. If Perry continues to warm to the task, a former one-term Massachusetts governor probably can’t beat him.

Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism and winner of the 2011 Michael Novak Award.