Last week I thought Perry’s affect — confident and loose — trumped his weakness on a couple of answers. Tonight, I thought it was the other way around. He was good sparring with Romney on Social Security and jobs in Texas, although this is ground where he naturally has an advantage. He can be cutting and amusing. He shot back at Romney that he was the one scaring seniors. And he had a snappy comeback when Romney said he was dealt four aces on the Texas economy: “Mitt, you were doing pretty well until you started talking poker.” But it was downhill after that.
It’s amazing that he’s still defending the idea that Bernanke could be guilty of near-treason. Bachmann and Santorum tag-teamed him on Gardasil. I think they went too far — they made it sound like the Tuskegee experiment or something. But it’s a vulnerability for Perry, and Bachmann bringing up the donation connection is a sign of cronyism attacks to come. He also took on water on immigration, where he got some boos. Near the end he had an answer on Afghanistan that was nearly incoherent, but he seemed to be saying that we should pull out of Afghanistan carefully and responsibly (I think).
Bachmann was much shrewder than Romney. She attacked Perry where he can be out-flanked on the right, whereas Romney took issue with a Perry characterization of Social Security — the famous Ponzi scheme — that most conservatives will agree with. Romney seemed very briefly wrong-footed when Wolf Blitzer asked him to praise Perry’s jobs record. Otherwise, he was as smooth and unflappable as ever. Bachmann was better than last time and showed she’s not going to quietly fade away. I liked both Santorum and Gingrich and wonder if either of them can still catch a little gust in Iowa. Huntsman is becoming more confident on the stage, which means even more annoying. He’s a smart ass who isn’t funny.