Rick Perry was so bad in Thursday's Republican debate that one of his second-tier rivals isn't bothering to be gracious about it just in case he wins. "Perry was off his game, big time," Rick Santorum told the Washington Examiner's Byron York after the debate. "Or maybe that is his game." Though the Texas governor started the night strong, he lost his energy -- or forgot what he studied, and he "at times appeared to be drugged," New York's Jonathan Chait says. But it's not just opponents and liberals who think he did poorly -- a post-debate focus group led by Frank Luntz on Fox showed several voters switching from Perry to Mitt Romney. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol said it was "close to a disqualifying two hours" for Perry. At Fox News, Rich Lowry says the performance "will stoke more speculation" that someone better will get in the race.
"I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of -- against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it -- was before -- he was before the social programs, from the standpoint of -- he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against first -- Roe v. Wade? He was -- uh --- for Race to the Top, he's for -- Obamacare, and now he's against it. I mean, we'll wait until tomorrow and -- and -- and see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight."
You can actually see Perry trying to remember his lines at 0:32.
Well obviously, before you ever get to that point you have to build a relationship in that region. That's one of the things that this administration has not done. Yesterday, we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with -- and that's the terrorist group directly associated with -- the Pakistani -- country. So to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States. For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16's, we chose not to do that. We did the same with Taiwan. The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by there with them.Today, we don't have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.
In general, Romney took his weak hand and played it far better than Perry, who at times appeared to be drugged, and perhaps is still suffering from a recovery from back surgery. But though Romney won most exchanges on a question-by-question basis, Perry probably emerged with the stronger meta-theme. His overarching condemnation of Romney is as a slippery, quasi-Democratic figure. Romney has nothing anywhere near so strong to deploy against Perry. He has tried, elliptically, to paint his foe as unelectable. But the deeper Romney expresses contempt for Obama -- tonight he accused him of never having held a job -- the harder it must be for Republican voters to imagine that any nominee would actually lose to this unemployed, socialist, America-hating failure.