Friday, September 23, 2011


Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum really went after Rick Perry on immigration last night -- and Perry tried to wriggle out of the tight spot, ironically, with the sort of line George W. Bush used to deploy under the tutelage of a guy who's now Perry's great enemy, Karl Rove. Perry said, of his support for a policy to provide a tuition break to undocumented students, "If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they've been brought their through no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart." Bush loved to talk about what was in his heart; it worked for him with the base. It might have worked for Perry, but the policy he's defending is utterly repulsive to GOP voters.

In a focus group segment on Fox News after the debate, Frank Luntz said that Perry's immigration talk elicited "the most negative reaction that I've seen any Republican candidate have among primary voters," based on approve-disapprove meters his focus group members used as they watched the debate. We have to take his word for it because the clip of the discussion with meter readouts superimposed had technical difficulties, but I trust that a lot of the focus groupers agree with one of their number, a woman who said that giving undocumented young people a tuition break has the effect of "actually putting people's lives at risk." (No, really, she said that -- wingnuts go online and spread every story they ever read about illegal immigrants committing crimes, then come to the conclusion that anecdotes are data and therefore all illegal immigrants are dangerous criminals.)

The focus groupers thought Romney won the debate, and when Luntz asked people who'd switched their allegiance precisely how they'd switched, two went from Perry to Romney, two from Perry to Gingrich, one from Romney to Cain, and one from Santorum to Romney. So, in this unscientific poll, Perry lost 4, Cain got 1, Romney netted 2 -- and Gingrich, amazingly, got 2.(Maybe Bill Clinton isn't completely crazy to think Newt could emerge victorious from the scrum?)

I guess what doesn't ring true for me is the sense that these people are going to stick with Romney -- he's gotten much better than you'd have ever thought he could be at stoking their rage and thus making them feel good (then again, so did George H.W. Bush in 1988), but can he sustain that? Or will he (in the wingers' eyes) go wobbly again, and leave them longing for Chris Christie, or Reagan's corpse? (I still don't think Palin's going to swoop in and take this, though, if Perry is drowning, her entry into the race could be an anvil.)

I guess I'll be surprised if Perry doesn't figure out a way to up his game -- unless he has such a sense of himself as a guy who can't lose that he doesn't know how to knuckle down and improve his campaign skills.


Oddly, Michelle Malkin thinks the immigration segment was the second-worst moment of the night -- the worst, she says, was Perry's failure to attack Romney on flip-flopping with sufficient eloquence. Go to the Malkin link if you care to see what she's talking about -- but jeez, Michelle -- attacking one of your front-runners for not doing a better job of insulting your other front-runner? Do you guys want to lose to Obama, just so you can say that you were too pure for this world?


AND: The booing of a gay soldier who asked a question via video, and Rick Santorum's unsympathetic response to that soldier (to put it mildly), does lead me to wonder why Santorum isn't doing better with Republican voters -- he hates what they hate, he's on the right side of every litmus test issue, and he's a vigorous and energetic debater. Two possible explanations: everyone knows he's a loser who got shellacked in his last election, and maybe even Repubhlicans find him obnoxiously self-regarding. He does seem to answer every question with an air of "You fools have no idea how great I am and how unworthy you are of me." GOP mean-spiritedness knows no limits, but it's supposed to come with at least a wafer-thin veneer of apparent niceness, but Santorum can't pull even that off.