. . . we can’t have illegals here!” Yeah, that line’s going to hurt Mitt Romney to an extent that it wouldn’t any other candidate. It feeds directly into the broadly held perception that his sudden ardent conservatism is a merely a product of his candidacy rather than the other way around.
But, what’s really going to stick to Romney after this debate is the tenuously contained, crimson-faced rage that overcame him when Rick Perry reminded him of his flagrant hypocrisy over the illegal immigration issue. Watch below as the normally placid expression of the venture capitalist and noted turnaround artist suddenly transforms into the blood engorged visage of a Maori warrior performing a Haka.
For the first time in any of the debates, Mitt Romney had the bubble of his inevitability punctured, and he didn’t react well. Up until last night, Romney clearly expected to skate through this presidential primary as the “next-in-line” candidate, and perhaps counted too much on the aid and comfort of also-rans to take down his challengers. Whatever his thinking was going into the debate, it’s pretty clear that the complacency he’s projected up until now has been a function of the kid-glove treatment he’s received at the hands of candidates whose shared objective was to take out a common rival. Now, he finds himself the target of that shared objective — and, no sir, he didn’t like it.
Herman Cain also had a bad night. It wasn’t so much in the way he performed in the debate, though it was a slightly off night for him in that regard. His personality and the appeal he holds for his base shields him from the kind of damage that more traditional candidates suffer in debates when they find themselves tackling questions they’re not particularly well prepared to answer. What would normally be considered a bug in typical presidential candidates is considered a feature in Herman Cain. No matter how badly he manages to flub an answer, you can count on his acolytes to portray it as an endearing admission of fallibility.
But Cain’s answer on the matter of swapping Gitmo detainees for a soldier held captive by al Qaeda terrorists wasn’t a simple matter of not being steeped in foreign policy minutiae or a refreshing lack of nuance in dealing with America’s enemies. His prior contention that he would be open to such a deal revealed something about his basic temperament: A lack of firm grounding in a very basic principle that the very act of negotiating with terrorists constitutes surrender.
Cain’s occasional uncertainty on foreign policy questions hasn’t been too problematic for him up until now since most of the questions he’s been faced with in that area have centered around specifics. Not knowing the name of the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan is something most people can identify with. The fact is, I don’t know the names of most heads of state, and yet, I consider myself to be a fairly quick study and can overcome that lack of knowledge in the amount of time it takes Google to report back with the results of a query.
The matter of negotiating with al Qaeda terrorists, however, is a completely different matter. It’s not something that a person needs experience in dealing with when it comes to the default position. Whether one sees the idea of negotiating with al Qaeda as plausible is a matter of basic inclination. In failing to reject the very notion of engaging in negotiations with al Qaeda out of hand, Herman Cain told GOP primary voters something about himself that they are simply not prepared to accept in a candidate.
The fallout from Cain’s lack of a firm answer on the issue may not be immediate or precipitous, but it will eat away at his candidacy and provide his opponents with a steady supply of ammunition going forward. The fact that he reversed himself on the matter within hours is a good indication that his advisers understand how badly he undermined himself. His inclination toward the possibility of negotiating with terrorists calls into question his basic temperament, and GOP primary voters require nothing less than steadfast resolve in such matters. On a very basic, fundamental question of disposition, Herman Cain gave a conditional answer where the required response is, “over my dead body.”
Finally, there is one overriding lesson to be drawn from last night’s debate that many in the conservative blogosphere are overlooking today. For all the discussion of whether Mitt Romney and Herman Cain were damaged by their performances, it really amounts to one thing and one thing only:
If Republican politics has devolved to the point where debate performances and personalities are the standard by which candidates are judged, and successful executive experience in government and sound economic and regulatory proposals are merely secondary considerations, we may as well cancel the primaries and coronate the Romney/Cain ticket right now. I, for one, don’t think it’s reached that point — yet.
And I suspect most other GOP primary voters don’t believe it has, either. And that’s why those who are dismissing Rick Perry’s chances right now will be eating their words soon. He can still win the nomination, despite what so many ostensible conservatives would have you believe. Whether he will or not remains to be seen. But his rivals and their supporters are in for a much tougher fight than they’d like to believe right now. That much I can guarantee.
Always, always, trust content from The Damn Dirty RINO.
UPDATE: Thanks to rdbrewer at Ace of Spades (one of my few daily must-visits) for the sidebar link! Welcome to all the ‘Rons & ‘Ettes; hope you find this dusty ol’ place hospitable!