Bryon York’s Debate Review: Perry Came Out Swinging
Did Perry final show up after four no-shows at the previous debates? Well, he sure was a lot more feisty. Bryon York had some interesting observations regarding the CNN Debate (October 18).
In fifth debate, Perry finally shows up
Twenty-four hours before the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, an adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Perry would try a new strategy after a series of lackluster debate performances. “We’re going to pay a little less attention to the rules,” the adviser, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “They have rarely been enforced, and we’re not going to pay much attention to them.” In previous debates, the adviser explained, Perry had tried to abide by time limits, leading some observers to say he seemed passive and withdrawn. Perry intended to make sure that didn’t happen in Las Vegas.
It didn’t. The Las Vegas debate was Perry’s fifth, but the first one in which Perry really showed up to play. That doesn’t mean he won, doesn’t mean he was particularly likable, doesn’t mean he always had cogent answers. But it does mean that Perry, on the verge of being completely written off as a candidate, gave himself a chance to get back in the game.
And Perry, for the first time in any GOP debate, rattled former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He did it by bringing up a 2007 charge that Romney hired illegal immigrants to do lawn work at his Massachusetts home. Jobs are the magnet for illegal immigrants, Perry said. “And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”
Romney tried to laugh it off and to deny the story. “I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life,” he said. Romney tried to explain, but Perry kept pushing, leaving Romney protesting that Perry was ignoring the rules — just as Perry had planned.
“Rick, again, Rick, I’m speaking,” Romney said. “I’m speaking, I’m speaking, I’m speaking. You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here…Anderson?”
By the time Romney appealed to CNN moderator Anderson Cooper for help, Romney seemed flustered, almost frantic. “Would you please wait?” he said to Perry. “Are you just going to keep talking?”
When Perry finally told Romney to “have at it,” Romney explained that he had hired a company to do lawn work and had no idea the company hired illegals until it was reported in the paper. But in the course of that explanation, Romney dropped his guard for a moment and uttered a few words he will likely hear again in the coming campaign.
“We went to the company, and we said, ‘Look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property,’” Romney said. “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.” It wasn’t clear whether Romney thought hiring illegals was bad in itself or whether he just thought it would look bad for a candidate pursuing the Republican nomination for president.
How will the voters assess an exchange like that? Perhaps some will fault Perry for getting personal and pushing too hard. Perhaps some will fault Romney for losing the composure that has served him well in debate after debate. Many are likely to conclude that neither man looked very good. But Perry’s advisers knew the Texas governor had to try something different at the Las Vegas debate. He seemed to sleepwalk through the last debate, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and another lackluster or downright bad performance on national television would do nothing to stop Perry’s slide in the polls.
Team Perry seems determined to take a new, more aggressive stance in coming weeks. “Clearly Romney has a significant problem sealing the deal with Republican voters,” the Perry adviser said before the debate. “He’s been running for six years and his numbers have stayed in the low- to mid-20s for much of that time. The challenge is who will emerge as the standard-bearing conservative to counter Romney’s flip-flop, inconsistent, not-very-conservative record. That continues to be our challenge and our task. There’s no magic wand, we need to just continue to grind it out.”
Despite a newly-energized performance, Perry still had problems on stage. His discussion of the minister who introduced him at a recent meeting in Washington and later denounced Mormonism as “a cult” was nearly incoherent. Perry, who has said that debate is “not my strong suit,” still had trouble with answers that should have been simple.
Moreover, despite his campaign’s insistence that there is still plenty of time to take the fight to Romney, time is in fact running short, and Perry has fallen a long way in the polls. Recovery might be beyond reach. But if Perry is to have any chance to recover, he had to start doing things differently, and Tuesday night in Las Vegas was that start.