When Rick Perry is on — which is often — his folksy, but tough manner is totally winning. Romney is smooth and competent, but he can’t quite match Perry’s appeal. Since substantive differences between Perry and Romney on entitlements are less than meets the eye, style is becoming more important. In fact, the race is turning into a combination of style and experience. Despite appearances, actual policy differences are too small to matter much — with the important exception of Romneycare, and maybe now immigration for Perry.
Yes, Perry took hits on the HPV vaccine and immigration. The conservative base will be a little more cautious and a bit less enthusiastic about him as a result. But this is still a Romney-Perry show, and Perry’s vulnerabilities are not going to cancel out the Romneycare problem — which Mitt has only made worse by demagoging Perry on Social Security. Perry’s immigration stance might help make conservatives a bit more open to Mitt, which is fine. But for now, despite the fact that Perry took some hits, this is still his race to lose.
The real question is what would happen to Perry after a massive scare campaign in the general election based on Fed Up! I can see those scare tactics failing. But the entitlement issue remains risky business. Let’s wait and see how this plays out.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of Radical-in-Chief.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
On his very first full day as a candidate in the Republican primary race, Texas governor Rick Perry gave a good answer when asked about his executive order mandating the Gardasil vaccine for girls going into the sixth grade in his state. He said it was a “mistake,” motivated by his hatred for cancer. But the more he talks about it, the more he makes it an issue. Rick Perry doesn’t seem to believe that this was more than a procedural mistake. How much have we surrendered when we’ve decided that the only way to spare sixth-grade girls from a sexually transmitted disease is vaccination? Rick Santorum made that point Monday night and well.
For anyone who is watching these debates, Rick Santorum is consistently substantive. I’m for the guy who will make him secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
The only thing missing in the CNN debate showmanship last night was having one of the candidates (Jon Huntsman, please) voted out. Other reality-show elements — throbbing music, a cheering audience, a dramatic introduction of contestants — were all present.
The show started with a notice of thrills to come: “Eight candidates. One stage.” CNN gave each candidate a label: Rick Perry is “The Newcomer,” Mitt Romney is (inaccurately) “The Frontrunner,” Rick Santorum is “The Fighter,” and — my favorite — Newt Gingrich is “The Big Thinker.” Someone at CNN must love one of my favorite movies, The Great Escape from 1963, which had James Garner as “The Scrounger,” Charles Bronson as “The Tunnel King,” and Richard Attenborough as “Big X.”
Wolf Blitzer played “The Ringmaster,” shouting after the introductions, “Ladies and gentlemen, the eight Republican presidential candidates.” And so it went. The Ringmaster often threw out-of-context statements at the contestants (excuse me, candidates) to get a rise out of them. The result was lots of heat and little light. Overall, I thought The Newcomer won the night and The Firebrand (Michele Bachmann) started no fires. Others can opine about what content there was. What truly astounded me was the format.
— Marvin Olasky is the editor-in-chief of WORLD.