WHAT MAKES PUNDITS SO SURE THAT ROMNEY WILL GAIN IF PERRY SLIPS?
I don't think Rick Perry hurt himself very much in last night's debate, if he hurt himself at all. I think mainstream pundits who think Mitt Romney was the winner are seeing the world through non-Fox News eyes, while GOP-establishment observers who think Romney won (hello, Fred Barnes) are trying to will Romney to the nomination, like baseball fans who wave their hands at a fly ball, as if that can make the ball go over the fence in fair territory when it's heading foul.
Here's the mainstream-pundit view, from a couple of National Journal writers:
Rick Perry has cost Mitt Romney his lead in the polls but made him a better candidate and, potentially, a more formidable nominee.
The former Massachusetts governor, long disparaged as a fragile front-runner for the nomination, is showing a spark that seemed elusive when he topped the national polls. He delivered his second confident debate performance against Perry on Monday, raising more questions about the Texas governor's position on Social Security even as Perry tried to close out the discussion by vowing the benefits were "slam-dunk guaranteed"...
For years now, Romney has been explaining which side he was on. Is he for abortion or against it? Is he for the individual mandate in health insurance or against it? Even Romney himself didn't seem sure. The new Romney is willing to displease: Before a tea party audience at the debate, he defended the existence of the Federal Reserve. In recent months, he acknowledged climate change and refused to sign an antiabortion pledge that he said went too far.
Those are risks suddenly worth taking because the makeup of the Republican field is working in Romney's favor. While his leading rivals scramble to win the GOP conservative activists, he can lay claim to the centrist wing of the party, with little real competition now that Tim Pawlenty has dropped out of the race (and, on Monday, endorsed Romney). The only other potential contender for that constituency, Jon Huntsman, is flailing....
But is the makeup of the field really working in Romney's favor? I think the next round of polls will show Perry still comfortably ahead -- but if he's suffered any slippage, I bet it's matched by slippage for Romney.
Romney attacked Perry last night from the left on Social Security. I know that less-crazy Republicans like Social Security and Medicare, but I bet even they don't want to see conservatism (as it's currently defined) under attack. As a result, I bet the debate sent some Republican voters from the Romney camp to the undecided camp.
Yeah, Perry may lose some support to Bachmann or Santorum -- but my hunch is that he didn't lose any to Romney. His supporters are on the far right, and they're far more numerous in the GOP than centrist pundits and Republican establishmentarians want to admit.
(Barnes and NJ via Memeorandum.)