GOP's Reagan Library Presidential Debate
September 8, 2011
Stepping into primetime, Texas Gov. Rick Perry struts his stuff in tonight’s GOP debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. While the election’s still 14 months away, tonight’s debate gives Perry a chance to show his Party’s base whether or not he’s worthy of all the recent attention, pushing him into frontrunner in the Republican presidential sweepstakes. Recent polls show Perry leaping to the front of the GOP pack, eclipsing prior leader, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. When Perry threw his hat into the ring Aug. 13, he was the Christian right’s option to Romney. He came out swinging, blasting Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, urging him to stop printing money. Three weeks into his campaign, no one knows when or if Perry will shoot himself in the foot. His performance tonight raises the stakes as he performs next to other GOP candidates.
Since announcing his candidacy, Perry almost immediately rose to the top of the polls, driving down Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann. Tea Party supporters, largely coming from the religious right, jumped at the chance to support Perry, abandoning Romney quickly, just like they did in 2008. If Perry plays it safe, sticks to his talking points, resists the temptation toward unscripted opining, he’s got a good shot of consolidating his frontrunner status. Perry’s GOP colleagues must violate the late President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment of “thou shall not attack fellow Republicans” to have a shot at catching Perry. “All eyes will be on Rick Perry, as he has become ‘Mr. August,’” said GOP strategist Scott Reid, formerly with Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour’s campaign. If Perry performs poorly, it could open the door for more experienced GOP candidates.
Perry’s swipes at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke might resonate with Texas Rep. Ron Paul but opens the door for criticism. Calling Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme” also hasn’t helped Perry’s credibility. Perry’s folksy “Bush-like” speaking style should help defray criticism stemming from his lack of specificity or detail related to how he’d do things differently than President Barack Obama. If Perry’s form holds true, he’ll continue his attacks on Obama, making it difficult for his GOP friends to go after him in the debate. When the GOP met Aug. 11 for the last debate in Ames, Iowa, all barbs were focused on Barack. With Perry leaping to front of the crowd, it’s going to be difficult for Romney, Bachmann or any other candidate to go on the attack. If debates were really based on substance, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would be head of the pack, something that hasn’t happened.
Perry needs only to show up, smile, ooze Southern charm and recite predigested talking points, just like Bush did in 2000. Bush proved beyond any doubt that style wins out over substance. “Can Rick Pery take a punch in a boxing ring he’s unaccustomed to?” asked Reed rhetorically, considering it’s doubtful the GOP pack would violate Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Obama’s sinking poll numbers are welcome-relief for GOP candidates looking for any chink in the incumbent’s armor. Thanks to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Obama had to move his jobs speech to a joint session of Congress to Thursday. Boehner politely asked the president to move his high-stakes national speech one day later. There’s nothing in Barack’s advanced publicity that should worry his GOP rivals. So far, he’s talking only about more stimulus for jobs, not changing how the U.S. does business.
If the GOP really wants to make a dent in Obama’s speech, they’ll come up with dramatic proposals on their own at tonight’s debate. How about the novel approach of regulating private equity and hedge funds that routinely short the market, sending stocks into a tailspin. Creating more U.S. jobs involves cracking some corporate heads that are too hell-bent on profits to consider manufacturing or at least assembling big-ticket consumer goods here in the states. Obama’s trial balloons for his Thursday night speech have only talked about more government spending, something opposed strongly by Tea Party folks on Capitol Hill. Preempting Obama’s speech with some bold new ideas on jobs and the economy would present the GOP as real alternative to the president’s economic policies. Only bashing Obama without presenting any new ideas could boomerang on the GOP.
Tonight’s GOP debate has a real chance to raise doubts about Obama’s economic and jobs policy. Asking Congress only for more cash without substantive proposals to change Wall Street and U.S. and foreign manufacturers won’t resonate well with the Republican-dominated House. Perry’s entrance on the debate scene raises the stakes for other GOP candidates, figuring out how best increase their chances. Perry’s immediate appeal stems from the Christian right looking for an alternative to Romney. Whether of not Perry can really cut the muster is anyone’s guess. Judging by his past debate performances, he’s no whiz kid, capable to dazzling the competition. If he slips up, it could hand Romney or Bachmann a real opportunity. If Perry sticks to the script, he’ll probably cement his frontrunner status. No other national GOP candidate has the looks and same appeal as Perry.
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