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Down Goes Perry: Winners, Losers of GOP Debate

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As the debate season roars on, the Republican nomination circus seems more like a bad season of The Bachelorette and less like a serious discussion about the leadership and direction of a major political party.

Like the massive marriage game, the GOP nomination has come down to a few indisputable facts: Republicans don't love Mitt Romney, and they are desperate to find someone, anyone, who can step in and love them right back. Romney is the guy moms want their daughters to marry. He's got money, good looks, and hair. He smiles a lot, seems pleasant, and almost certainly knows how to operate a sailboat.

He's also duller than Organic Chemistry lectures on quaaludes, and with his past history as governor of Massachusetts, he's had to compromise with Democrats on a few occasions. While someone's mother might see Romney as an endearing person, Republican primary voters are not interested in endearing. They aren't interested in safe, nice, sane, or rational.

No, Republican primary voters, channeling their inner teenager, want someone to give voice to their rage. They want to rebel. They want to flirt with the biker. They want the rebel Texan who can show them a good time. They want the crazy broad with the alternative-lifestyle husband. They want the dirty old man who will teach them things about their bodies that they didn't learn in Sunday School.

(Well, you want a job, right?)

One by one, the Republicans have flirted with disaster. First they embraced Donald Trump. When he decided he'd rather be rich than president, they turned to Michele Bachmann. She flamed out because she's completely insane. They turned to Rick Perry. He doesn't even know the very basic things that he allegedly stands for. Then they turned to Herman Cain, whose only qualifying experience for President is that he's really, really good at sexually harassing women. (Note to GOP: when Democrats said they wanted to recreate the Clinton years, we were talking about the economy, not the constant man-whoring.)

With Trump, Bachmann, and Perry already written off as the anti-Romney candidate, and Cain about two weeks away from fading away, the GOP is facing a choice: embrace Mitt Romney or pursue some other anti-Romney candidate. Who does that second choice even leave? Rick Santorum? He wouldn't even win his home state. Ron Paul? I love the little guy, but his ideas are just terrible for America. Jon Huntsman? He's too intelligent, too Romney-like for what the GOP primary voters want. Gary Johnson? Buddy Roemer? Not going to happen, sadly.

That leaves one man left to be the anti-Romney: Newt Gingrich. That's why Newt spent the entire debate arguing with the media and playing to the fears and superstitions of the right-wing. He knows his one shot at getting on this ticket is by becoming the anti-Romney.

Where Romney is thoughtful and equivocates in his answers, Gingrich blurts out whatever random thought crosses his mind. Where Romney cites studies and argues in terms of macroeconomic theories, Gingrich just repeats mantras like he's Rain Man on acid. If Romney is the nice man the Bachelorette should pick, Gingrich is the philandering idiot she probably will pick.

That's why there were exactly three winners in Wednesday's debate:

  • Mitt Romney: He was the only adult on the stage last night. He did wimp out on his question about whether he'd keep serial sexual assaulter Herman Cain on as CEO. Romney could have clinched the nomination if he'd simply have said "Herman's a nice man in many regards, but his treatment of women is abhorrent. I would have fired him on the spot." Even still, the longer this drags out with 8 or more candidates on the stage, the more likely it is that Romney becomes the nominee.
  • Newt Gingrich: The Cain sexual harassment story isn't going to go away, primarily because it's true and because the more details come out, the more disgusted normal people are at Cain's behavior. We all know someone who was harassed the way these women were. The GOP primary voters might be insane, but the people who run the party are not. A Cain nomination would be as big a disaster as Goldwater in 1964. Gingrich is next in line, so he's a winner of last night.
  • President Obama: After watching these amateurs bumble their way through yet another debate, Obama can relax a little. It won't be an overwhelming performance by a GOP candidate that brings him down. There are no superstars here. The only way Obama loses is if the economy remains in the crapper... and even then, the GOP might shoot itself in the foot a dozen times before election day.

As for losers, that would be everyone else on stage. Bachmann was invisible, Santorum was a closet case, and Huntsman really deserves to be surrounded by more intelligent voters. Ron Paul is, by my estimate, gearing up for a third party run. Rick Perry was so high he forgot what he was talking about, mid-sentence. And Cain? Well, he might have a chance if harass were two words. It was in the 1950s, but this isn't the 1950s.

For a different take on who won Wednesday's debate, see my colleague's thoughts, here.

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