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GOP: mainstream media make our butts look fat

Remember the parade of 2012 Presidential contest debates in the Republican nomination process? Trust me, Republicans do, and they’ve apparently been quietly steaming about them ever since.

These would be the same debates after which many voters across America started referring to the candidates as “the clown car.” These would be the same debates during which a live studio audience loudly boo’ed an active duty military man who was at that moment in a combat zone, because he happened to be gay.

These would be the same debates during which Texas Governor Rick Perry had his infamous “oops” moment, in which he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he’d promised to abolish, hammering the final nail in his own presidential coffin. They were also the debates during which Mitt Romney bet Perry $10,000 that he hadn’t supported individual mandates while Massachusetts Governor, which was among the first indications to voters that Romney, and anybody else who will just casually throw out a $10,000 bet, probably isn’t exactly your standard issue regular guy.

Aside from the other two Republican distractions of the 2012 nominating process – the un-candidates who didn’t run, but who kept oozing into the headlines anyway, making the clown car more clown carish, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump – the Republican debates showed Americans how out-of-touch the Republicans were with mainstream Americans, and they were key to setting up an Obama re-election.

Turns out the Republicans missed the point entirely. Turns out it apparently hasn’t crossed their minds that it was their own candidates, with assists from their own hand-picked debate studio audiences, who made their butt look fat.

Clearly they think it was the fault of the mainstream news outlets sponsoring those debates which were at fault. The indications are apparent this week.

First, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus threatened NBC and CNN with exclusion from the 2016 debate process if they air a Hillary Clinton feature (which, ironically, is reportedly being produced by FOX, but Priebus also said he isn’t interested in excluding FOX from the debate process – go figure).

Now the GOP is floating the idea of excluding actual mainstream news media from debate moderation, and instead letting figures such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin moderate.

Let that sink in: Republicans actually believe that respected mainstream journalists who acted as debate moderators made their candidates look stupid. It has apparently not crossed their minds that Republican candidates made Republican candidates look stupid. And now Limbaugh, Hannity, and Levin might be tapped to solve the problem.

When the national GOP decides that Limbaugh, Hannity, and Levin might be the solution, they’ve got quite a problem. I say bring ‘em on. The national ridicule following a debate featuring clown car candidates, moderated by the biggest GOP clowns in show biz, will be something to see. I hope they add Glenn Beck to the list. And after the Republican nominating process winds down, the spectacle will make it even more difficult for their nominee to attract mainstream general election voters.

In the comments section, feel free to write the questions you think moderators like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Levin would ask the new-and-improved 2016 Republican clown car.

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Presidential debate #3: Romney called – he wants his debate win from 3 weeks ago back

I had feared going into tonight’s debate on foreign policy that the President might fare as poorly as a draw, because even as he was winning in the second debate last week, he didn’t do a particularly great job explaining himself when the topic turned to foreign policy then. It was mostly because of Governor Romney’s blunder on precisely when Obama first termed the attack in Libya “terrorism,” and moderator Candy Crowley’s assist on that question, that people weren’t talking about it later. Instead, they were talking about Romney being wrong. Again.

But my fears of a draw were for nothing, because Obama came loaded for bear, hitting Romney again and again on Romney’s incoherent positions, leaving Romney reeling on his heels for the first full 30 minutes of the 90 minute debate. Obama was not only more in command, but he had the lion’s share of the memorable dingers certain to be re-played over the next few days.

Obama was also first out of the chute to turn a debate slated to be 100 percent foreign policy into a discussion about domestic policy, which was admittedly just fine with Romney. But on that front as well, Obama edged out Romney with his command of the issues and the agressiveness of his attacks on Romney’s ever-varying positions.

The most puzzling thing about the debate is why the exact same Mitt Romney showed up this week as the Mitt Romney who showed up last week. Romney lost that debate, and this week’s performance should have been an opportunity for course corrections.

It would be difficult to over-state the importance of Obama winning this last debate. Obama losing the first of the three proved how damaging it is for an incumbent President to be caught napping – nobody was ever even talking about this being a serious race until Romney bested him their first time out. But Democrats breathed a sigh of relief when the Obama who showed up tonight was the same Obama who showed up last week. He was eager to very forcefully defend his policies, and equally eager to define Romney’s lack of consistency before Romney could innoculate himself against the charge.

More local to Texas, guess who else is breathing a little easier now? Democrats on the same ballot running in tough real estate. Wendy Davis in the Senate. State House members like Craig Eiland in Galveston, Joe Moody in El Paso, or Donna Howard in Austin. Congressional candidates like Pete Gallego or Nick Lampson. Those Dems don’t need Obama to win in their districts, and in some of those examples, Obama certainly won’t. But what those down-ballot Democrats can’t have is Obama getting creamed in their districts, creating such a drag on their own races that voters don’t even consider the individual Democrats running down-ballot. That’s what happened across the state two years ago, which was key to creating the Republican supermajority in the state House. And Obama besting Romney in the last two of their three debates probably swings hundreds of state legislative districts across the country, including some in Texas.

Tonight’s debate moderator Bob Schieffer is probably breathing easier as well, since he may have become the only moderator in the 2012 debate season who is all-but-unassailable in his performance tonight. He kept complete command of the event, and neither played it safe nor strayed into territory which partisans on either side could credibly criticize as rationale for why their little perfect angel of a candidate “would have” won.

There’s no doubt that it was the Obama’s night, and the President very much needed another one, like the one he had last week. Even after Romney’s first debate win created a Romney bump, the electoral map still looked daunting for the Republicans – but at least they could see a glimmer of hope.

But since this debate was the last opportunity for Romney to fuel a surge for his campaign (barring breaking news neither campaign can control), things may start returning to the bleakness Republicans were beginning to feel before the debate season.

All-in-all, it was a bad night for Romney, at the worst possible timing. Looking forward, watch out of wild-ass charges coming from Republicans aimed at Obama. It may well be the only play they have left to make.

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Presidential debate #2: Romney hits Obama right in the fist with his nose

I have to hand it to Mitt Romney – he had a very spirited first half of a debate tonight. Unfortunately for him, he had it with moderator Candy Crowley.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama ran the table, seemingly without Romney noticing.

Obama showed up to tonight’s town hall-style debate clear about what he needed to accomplish. He was determined to not let pass any moment during which Romney misrepresented either his own or Obama’s positions or record. On this front alone, Obama would have won the debate.

But, especially in the first half, Obama didn’t just win, he mopped the floor with Romney. He showed all the spirit he was lacking in the first debate. He held Romney’s feet to the fire in all the ways his campaign wished he had in the first debate. And he dominated, without seeming domineering, like he should have in the first debate.

It’s not that the second half of tonight’s town hall was much better for Romney. It was, however, more scary for Obama supporters. Obama got a bit wild-eyed toward the end, and Obama voters could be forgiven for being tempted to want to reach through the TV and push him back just a bit. But he always pulled himself back just in time.

Incidentally, I read the memorandum of understanding between the two campaigns earlier today, and everybody involved – including Crowley – broke the agreed-to rules, big-time. But it was already clear before tonight that debate rules were meant to be broken, and it didn’t detract from this information flow. Mostly it was amusing.

Crowley, for her part, showed up determined not to be Lehrer’ed, and she succeeded. On the other hand, calling on a voter to ask a question about guns, before you had ever called on anybody to ask about public education, when you’re running out of time? Seriously?

What tonight’s debate set could have looked like

I was in the studio at YNN Austin, watching the debate on the set with Republican frequent partner-in-crime Ted Delisi, and Ted had an interesting observation I completely agree with: the Presidential Debate Commission never picks Texas as a debate site. I think Ted’s onto something, especially watching the white people-fest that passes for “a diverse group of undecided voters” in New York. Let’s face it: those yankees were annoying the crap out of me. What about a town hall debate in San Antonio next time, Commissioners? We’ll show you diverse, and we promise that not all the questions will be about taking our guns away.

What now? I think the President gets his solid momentum back, that’s what now. I think the big gender gap in which an overwhelming majority of women support Obama is reinforced. I think serious doubts about Mitt Romney among a lot of swing voters in key states returns. And I think in the few days we’ll begin to see the polling swing back Obama’s way, with him gaining back a lot of ground lost two weeks ago after his weak debate performance then.

And I think Democrats can afford exactly one-half of a sigh of relief. Because the bottom line is, this will still be a very close race and Democrats have a lot of work left to do to win it.

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Presidential debate #2 preview: can Obama get back in the groove?

Tonight is Barack Obama’s big chance.

Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney was able to reverse much of weeks, if not months, of a Bataan death march of a campaign because of the President’s lackluster debate performance. It showed in a reversal of the national polls, most of which showed Romney in the lead after the first debate, and in key state polls which showed at least a bump for the Massachusetts Governor. There’s little doubt that the first debate, for the first time in months, made Mitt Romney at contender.

Last week, Vice President Biden stopped the bleeding, in his own debate performance against Paul Ryan. Biden didn’t hit a home run, but he got a solid base hit and fired up the team. (again with the sports analogies)

But ultimately, incumbent Presidents have to make a case for themselves to win re-election. It helps when a former President like Bill Clinton makes a strong case for Obama, as Clinton did at the Democrats’ national convention. It helps when Joe Biden makes a strong case for Obama, as he did last week.  Now it’s time for the President to make a strong case for himself.

If the President can do it tonight, he’ll be back in a commanding position in the election. And if he can’t, we’ll have a real race on our hands. No pressure there, huh?

Complicating Obama’s job is the format. Town hall meetings mean the candidates are talking to real live undecided voters, in person. In order to connect with the voters across the country who count the most – undecided voters in the swing states – Obama must first connect with the undecided voter in the room tonight asking the question. He can’t just score points in skirmishes with his opponent, or moderator Candy Crowley.

Crowley herself is another factor. Arguably, she’ll be the moderator this election most inclined toward sharp challenges to a questionable claim either candidate makes. This is certainly something that Mr. Romney will have to take into account, since Crowley is unlikely to let slide Romney’s ever-shifting policy positions. But Crowley is certain not to fail to take the President to the woodshed any time she thinks he’s weaseling on.

This is the second time the two candidates have met, and second debates are always about course corrections for the loser of the first debate. It is a certainty that we will see a very different Barack Obama tonight than we saw two weeks ago. The real question is, will the Obama we see tonight perform more effectively than the one we saw two weeks ago? My guess is that he’ll get his groove back tonight, if only because he’s shown himself to be at his best when his back is against the wall.

Here’s what I said about it on Fox News in Austin last night. Frequent Republican partner-in-crime Ted Delisi and I will be on the pre-game show, and post-game analysis, on YNN Austin this evening, beginning at 7:45 Central.

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Veep debate analysis: Obama team still in the game with good field position, and other sports analogies

Debates are, among other things, potentially good political theater. I would only have added the word “potentially” after last week’s snore-fest between President Obama and Governor Romney showed that debates don’t have to interesting at all.

But tonight’s debate between Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan proved to be everything last week’s effort wasn’t. I don’t care who you are, it was a damn good show in which all three people on the stage exceeded expectations.

Biden, to the disappointment of Republicans, was free of major gaffes, and full of passion, spit, and vinegar.

Ryan, to the disappointment of Democrats, didn’t curl up in a tight little sniveling ball of inexperience. He hung in there and held his own, and I applaud his parents, who, in the words of a friend of mine, generously allowed Ryan to stay up late tonight and participate.

Debate moderator Martha Raddatz, who was bound to look pretty good after following such an easy act from last week’s dismal performance by Jim Lehrer, did her job extraordinarily well under tough circumstances.

The toughest circumstance came in a package named Joe Biden, who suited up for the game, left it all on the field, and probably at least four other football metaphors. It was clear that Biden’s memo from his boss was “I screwed up and let Romney get away with every mischaracterization imaginable – it’s your job this week to do my job from last week.”

Republicans will complain that Biden interrupted Ryan too much. Democrats will counter that Biden only interrupted when Ryan’s misrepresentations needed to be pointed out, and as such, Biden cannot be faulted if Ryan cannot utter a single sentence without a misrepresentation. Both complaints have a lot of merit, but Biden’s performance wins out – because Biden made the compelling case for the boss that the boss failed to make last week.

For Ryan’s part, his weakest moments were, admittedly, not his fault. The weak moments came when Raddatz pressed Ryan for the specifics of Romney’s plans. Ryan wasn’t stumped the Ryan is stupid – Ryan was stumped because Romney’s specifics don’t exist. It was most noticeable in the discussion on tax reform, but also quite noticeable in the health care discussion. When the dust settles from tonight’s debate, observant voters may well conclude that Paul Ryan’s biggest shortcoming is Mitt Romney.

But to be sure, it is clear from tonight that Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin. Democrats should consider him armed and dangerous, and should have from the start.

The debate may well not be a net gain for Democrats, but make no mistake – important gains were made nevertheless. Biden stopped much of the bleeding from last week. There will be voters who are undoubtedly turned off by Biden’s aggressive approach. There are other voters who aren’t satisfied, because a President ultimately must make a case for himself, not a case made by his number two. But there will be a lot of voters who will like the fact that Biden’s aggressive approach was in aggressively defending the middle class, in aggressively correcting Republican misrepresentations, and in aggressively making a passionate stand for the policies of the Obama administration.

But much of Obama’s gains from the Veep debate will be Democratic gains. A despondent Democrat is a worthless Democrat, and too many Democrats completely freaked out and irrationally over-reacted to Obama’s listless performance last week. They needed the morale boost of Biden’s performance. Their enthusiasm may not show up immediately, but it will show up, just as their lack of enthusiasm following the last debate showed up in the polls.

While tonight wasn’t a home run for the Obama team, Biden’s clutch performance ensures that the Obama team is still in the game, and in the swing states, remains in good field position.

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Presidential debate #1: America’s eyes glaze over

Remember what I said earlier this week, in the piece below this one, about what President Obama and Governor Romney needed to do, and needed to avoid tonight? None of that happened.

When I wrote the piece below, about how Romney could win tonight’s debate, it undoubtedly wasn’t what my favorite Democratic friends wanted to hear. Neither will this piece.

I said in the debate preview that Romney needed to change the game, since he’s the guy who’s behind. Romney failed to do it.

I also said in the preview that Obama needed to avoid getting to explainy, and he failed to avoid it spectacularly. I also said he needed to connect with voters at an emotional level, and he didn’t do that either.

Luckily for the President, Romney matched Obama explainy-for-explainy, and together, arm-in-arm, both candidates happily dove, over the decomposing corpse of moderator Jim Lehrer, right off the explanation cliff.

I’ll be blunt: this was the most boring, and least effectively moderated, Presidential debate ever.

Ted Delisi, Harvey Kronberg, and me on the set at YNN Austin, watching the debate and waiting for the post-debate show, in our desperate fight to stay awake

Obama’s objective was clearly to put Romney on the defensive, and Obama succeeded – the entire night was essentially about Romney. But Romney comported himself well enough, and in hindsight his ability to do so was entirely predictable. Obama’s strategy put Romney right into Romney’s comfort zone, where he has the most experience: debating on defense. He got that experience during the approximately 1,348,499 debates held during the Republican nominating process. Since he was the perceived frontrunner during most of those debates, he got accustomed to debates being a referrendum on Romney’s proposals.

To be fair, Obama’s strategy might have been more effective if Lehrer, the moderator, had managed not to doze off along with the rest of America. From Obama supporters’ perspective, whoppers were being hooked, but not reeled in. One need look no farther than the first excruciating 15 minutes of the debate, in which an extended discussion of Romney’s tax plan was batted around. It became more apparent than ever that the answer to the core question – does Romney’s tax plan balance, or not – is dependent on the component of the plan Romney has steadfastly declined to clarify: which tax deductions will he eliminate?

This would have been a perfect time for Mr. Lehrer to return from the restroom where he was taking a leak and simply press Romney for an answer about which tax deductions would get axed. If Romney had declined to answer, that would have been big news. If Romney had finally given a straight answer, that would have been even bigger news, and a pretty neat thing for Americans to know, I’m guessing. Or so you’d think. Lehrer also let Romney run away from his own tax plan without significant challenge.

You’d also think that in a 90 minute debate exclusively about domestic issues, Lehrer might have encouraged the candidates to devote a good 10-15 seconds or so on women. But if there was any discussion whatsoever on the issues associated with the largest gender gap for Republicans in recent political memory, I must have missed it…which would have been understandable since it was a challenge to stay awake.

I will say this for the President: he did lay out a clear-eyed, sober, level-headed case for himself, while Governor Romney was busy defending his proposals. But because both men said way too little and took way too much time saying it, the message was lost to television viewership which was undoubtedly plummeting by the minute as the boredom set in.

Make no mistake – I don’t believe this debate changed the game, so on that score Obama won, because he’s the man in the lead. But a man as gifted as Obama should have connected better, and wonked less. A journalist with the stature of Jim Lehrer shouldn’t have let both candidates muck around in the weeds without either of them covering any significant new ground. And on points that probably don’t change a thing, Romney did well tonight.

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Presidential debate preview: how Romney can win it

This is the week journalists will be asking everybody in sight how Romney can change the game by winning the debate Wednesday (spoiler alert – they already are). And the mere fact that they’re asking how Romney can change the game is the clearest indication yet that Romney is losing.

Fact is, my Democratic friends who claim this election is over – Obama’s already won it – are engaged in wishful thinking. Debates can change the election mood. So can 36 remaining days worth of world events, economic reports, and potential gaffes by one candidate or another, even aside from debates.

The odds are overwhelming that the President will emerge from this and the other two Presidential debates just fine. After all, it is, indeed, Mitt Romney who must change the game, not Barack Obama. Obama must only prevent Romney from presenting such a compelling case that voters change their minds and decide to fire the President.

But lest we forget: Ronald Reagan was still trailing Jimmy Carter until after a strong debate showing. Rick Perry was still considered a formidable candidate until the debates. George H.W. Bush was still solidly in “incumbent advantage” mode until he impatiently and ineptly kept glancing at his watch to see how many more minutes he had left to endure the pipsqueak Bill Clinton, until the debates. Some Texans were still under the impression that Kinky Friedman was something more than a second rate jokester until a gubernatorial debate clearly showed that he was actually a third rate one. Debates can, indeed, change the tone.

Here are five ways the election can be re-set to Mitt Romney’ advantage this Wednesday night:

1. Obama, who can get very explainy, can be inordinately explainy this Wednesday. The only politician alive who can get away with explaining government to people is Bill Clinton. The efforts of everybody else to do so is the fastest way known to man to make voters’ eyes glaze over. Obama needs to communicate values and priorities – not assault voters’ ear drums with facts and figures, which in an incumbent protection election sound like excuses. If Obama gets stuck in those weeds, Romney will win the debate.

2. The President must connect to people at an emotional level. Letting his personal annoyance with Romney show through isn’t a good way to do it – it’s more of a way to give voters the impression that Obama is arrogant. The “I deeply care about the future of this country” message Obama needs to convey could well be interrupted by the competing “Mitt, you really annoy the crap out of me and I’d like to squash you like the mosquito you are” negative message Obama will convey if he’s not careful.

3. Mr. Romney could, at long last, focus on the economy in such a compelling way that it captures voters’ attention. Yes, we got to #3 before even approaching a possibility that Romney can control – one of the big problems with the Romney campaign – but the possibility exists. Romney’s camp has said all year that he wants the election to be about the economy, and all year long Romney has instead been veering off chasing pretty butterflies instead. If Romney makes this Wednesday’s debate about the economy, and treats it like the beginning of a continuing process lasting for the duration of the election, instead of treating it like a sound byte he visits from time to time, in between pointless Obama-dinging on other issues, Romney could change the game.

4. Romney could surprise everybody by getting specific about what a Romney administration would look like; he could answer the nagging questions that have been holding back his candidacy. Does his tax plan balance – without doing away with the most popular deductions? Can he actually answer the health care reform question in a way in which he doesn’t appear to be on all sides of the issue? Can he explain why, if he’s blaming Obama on not fixing the economy in 3 years, why he insists it will take him two terms to fix it if he’s elected? Can he explain Medicare and Social Security such that it doesn’t scare the bejesus out of seniors? Personally I think the answer to all these questions is “no, he can’t,” but if he somehow finds a way to do so, it would change the game.

5. Obama could just flat-out screw something up. Obama is not gaffe-free, which is a factor people tend to forget since Romney is a gaffe machine.

But now, after the above five factors are giving Obama voters nightmares, here is the good news: none of the above is likely to happen.

The President knows what’s at stake, and he’s unlikely to seriously misstep. But even if he does, Mr. Romney has had week after week of bad news, and it may well be the case that voters no longer consider him a credible messenger, to the extent that no matter what he says and does, voters could respond with “that makes sense – too bad that guy is full of crap.”

Mitt Romney has invested the last eight years showing voters that he’s still not quite ready for prime time. His history shows that he probably doesn’t have the sheer talent to press the reset button on all those years with one good night this Wednesday.

And that assumption by voters makes it a little more likely that he’ll be able to do it. But only a little.

Here’s the TV schedule this week: I’ll be on Fox News in Austin tomorrow night at 9 pm with a debate preview. Then on Austin’s YNN Wednesday, I’ll be on both before and after the debate with predictions and analysis. And, as always, I’ll be on YNN’s Capital Tonight Thursday night at 7 pm with the whole wrap-up, plus discussion about Jay Root’s new book about Rick Perry.

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Rick Perry’s campaign unable to overcome Rick Perry

I have been among the Democrats most bullish on Rick Perry’s odds of catching on with Republican primary voters. Even as Perry’s fortunes have faltered, I have cautioned over and over again that Perry’s not done. I’ve usually qualified my position with, “assuming Perry doesn’t screw himself up even more.”

Last night, Perry screwed himself up even more. Even Michelle Bachmann said she feels sorry for him. Let that sink in. Perry has become such a hopeless band nerd that the crazy girl who can’t get a prom date pities him.

Perry seemingly has everything going for him. He has a very good campaign team. He has the money to compete. He has the organization to sustain and capitalize on a lead. He also has a fourth thing, but I can’t remember what it is. Oops.

The only thing the Perry campaign is missing? A candidate.

Perry probably blew any possibility of the nomination last night, as he spectacularly screwed himself up in the CNBC debate. Granted, most Republican primary voters didn’t watch the debate, but the opinion leaders in the Republican Party did, and the gaffe clip will undoubtedly go viral, in that “Holy God in Heaven, what an embarrassment this clown is!” sort of way.

Perry’s campaign team will try to make the best of it, and they’re already into full-out crisis management mode. It will only serve to remind voters that Perry is a one-man federal disaster area that FEMA couldn’t even move in and mop up off the floor.

Presidential campaigns generally don’t quit until the money runs out, so I’m guessing we have several more weeks to either look on as Rick Perry further embarrasses himself and the State of Texas, or — and this is the longest of long shots — several more weeks as Perry’s campaign slowly fixes what Perry himself has broken.

But the Vegas odds fundamentally changed last night. Republican voters will feel they’ve given Rick Perry more than enough chances to prove himself. Instead, Perry has only succeeded in proving himself to be completely unqualified.

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Perry, running low on lubricant, may skip future debates

That Rick Perry is such a kidder.

Now he’s blaming his fall from grace on debates. Not how terribly he performs in debates, mind you, but the debates themselves.

Apparently, there is something extra-magical about Rick Perry alone, among the Republican candidates for president, in which there is nothing whatsoever wrong with him, but put him on a stage next to other candidates, moderated by those pesky news people, and suddenly it is as if kryptonite has paralyzed Superman.

Perry is apparently in a problem solve-y kind of mood. He has decided that the key to showing Republican primary voters how he compares to others running for the Republican nomination, is to not show up for future events which are designed to allow voters to compare the candidates running for the Republican nomination.

Only in Rick Perry’s world does this make sense. However, you’re not allowed to ask questions about this, because answering a bunch of questions is way beneath Rick Perry. It’s why he’s no good at debating, and it’s why he seldom hosts a press conference.

In Rick Perry’s world, Rick Perry issues demands. In Rick Perry’s world, Rick Perry does not answer questions.

So his campaign is mulling over skipping future debates. They say he might attend the next one, but will not commit to additional debates after that.

Guess what? Debate organizers almost always have a rule. Candidates who don’t meet some minimum threshold of support in the recent reputable polling aren’t even invited to a debate. That’s why you haven’t seen former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, another Republican Presidential candidate, in recent debates.

Have you seen Perry’s poll numbers recently? If his support falls much farther, whether he likes it or not he may be watching future debates while drinking a brewski in the hotel bar with Gary Johnson.

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A last look at the Republican debate

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, here are the debate highlights, in 45 seconds. Because anything more than that is a waste of our time.
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Republican debate wrap-up

Yesterday I predicted that Rick Perry wouldn’t wait for his opponents to ring his phone, but instead he would come out swinging. He did so aggressively.

But Perry was so prone to inaccurate statements (El Paso, global warming science, Social Security ponzi scheme, etc.) that the debate is not likely to help him much. But he was aggressive, spunky, didn’t noticeably falter until the second half, and got his sound bytes in. At least in the short term, the debate is unlikely to hurt him.

Regrettably, modest advantage Perry.

But Romney did well too, and his camp thinks they’re onto something, and they may be right. The “Ponzi scheme” comment is a deal-killer for Perry, they think. That may be an over-statement, but I do agree that it’s a serious tactical blunder for Perry and his campaign.

Social Security reform is an issue that gets Republicans nowhere – just ask George W. Bush. Worse for Perry, the issue is a distraction that removes Perry from his “Texas jobs and economy” message. I fail to see how this helps Perry, and if I squint my eyes a bit, I can see where it hurts him over time, even with Republican primary voters. Even though they hate them some gu’mint programs, virtually all voters can see the value in Social Security, and get insecure in a hurry when Republicans start talking about changing it.

A few other debate notes:

– Bachmann is in deep trouble. Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago she emerged the winner in the Iowa Straw Poll? Perry’s entry into the race seems to have knocked her completely off her game, and last night she got so lost in the crowd that she should have left bread crumbs to find her way out. Last night’s debate established a top tier, and she’s out of it. It’s Romney and Perry at this point.

– Huntsman had a pretty good night. However, his good night is mostly noticeable when compared with his previous really bad nights in previous debates. There is not enough oxygen in the top tier to support three candidates, so until Perry or Romney falter, I don’t know that it does Huntsman much good in the short term. But at least he stays in the game, limping along until New Hampshire.

– Ron Paul is (still) out of his league. In a stage with ten candidates, nine were articulate. Paul, the odd man out, alternated between channeling Jerry Lewis (the comedian in the old movies, not the old dude on the telethon), Jimmy Stewart, and George Burns. Paul can’t be ignored because he will always have his relatively high core constituency. But “the other Texan” will never score a win, because he has a low ceiling of support.

– What’s up with Newt? I had frankly forgotten he was still a candidate until last night. He was surprisingly good, running for second place. He ignored his opponents, and instead debated the debate moderators and the mainstream media. He scored points – to be somebody else’s VP pick. He’s still going nowhere as a Presidential candidate in his own right.

– What’s up with Republicans? Wildly applauding Texas putting to death over 200 people? Regardless of your personal views over the death penalty, that was a low rent moment. You just can’t take ‘em anywhere.

We’ll undoubtedly talk more about last night’s debate, as well as other issues on YNN’s Capital Tonight, live on Austin TV this evening beginning at 6 7. Join us if you can.

Update: Capital Tonight will begin at 7 tonight, immediately following the President’s job speech.

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The Republicans’ mass debate

After ducking every debate he possibly could over his years as a candidate for public office, Rick Perry faces his opponents in the Presidential contest tonight. The conventional wisdom is that Perry will not fare well.

Conventional wisdom is, unfortunately, probably inaccurate.

First, there will be too many candidates on stage for any one of them to have much time at the mic. Even the debate-averse Perry will have something gaffe-free to say for himself during the limited time he has.

Second, given Perry’s frontrunner status, if the tone of the debate turns sharp, most believe it will be Perry the other candidates aim at. While that may to some extent be true, it is just as likely that Perry will be the candidate who comes out swinging. He’s always at his best when he’s critical of others, and his advisors have surely recommended that the best defense is a great offense. I would look for Perry to quickly elbow Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, and perhaps Ron Paul, since those are the three who are his most likely serious opponents or who have shown the early propensity to elbow him. He’ll want to teach them that criticizing Perry comes at a cost.

And third, even if the other candidates turn their attentions to Perry, so what? If they’d shown any talent for grabbing the Republican-voting public’s attention in the first place, Perry would have been less likely to join the race. They are, quite frankly, not very good at it. Their best attempts to lay a hand on Perry will most likely fall flat.

Unless his Republican opponents dig deep into Perry’s “Texas jobs and economy” narrative and widen the cracks in that armor (and boy howdy, there are cracks wide enough to drive a truck through), Perry is likely to be seen as “holding his own” just fine in the debate, which for a frontrunner is a win.

I apologize that there’s not a single punchline in this post. But at least you have the headline going for you. Don’t read it out loud to your mother.

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Rick Perry debate stunt double

As Democrat Bill White, Libertarian Kathie Glass, and Greenie-weenie Deb Shafto each accept their invitation to debate, Rick Perry still refuses to face his opponents.

Note to debate organizers: I suggest that you add a projector screen to the stage set-up, call on Rick Perry to make his opening statement, then play this scene from “Blazing Saddles.” It’s close enough.

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The debate over Governors race debates

Where we are: Rick Perry insisted that he would talk about debates only after Bill White released tax returns which Bill White has now released. Now Perry has issued a new set of hoops which he wants Bill White to jump through before Perry will agree to debate.

How many days ago this blog precisely predicted this would happen: 49

You thought I was kidding?

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Presidential Debate Preview

For the second-to-last Presidential debate, I wrote this in my debate preview:

John McCain is down in the polls, and sinking farther every day. The shine is off his running mate, states previously considered “safe” for Republicans are suddenly toss-ups, and McCain desperately needs a game-changer.

He won’t get it.

Another eight days have passed, and McCain’s electoral map hole is even deeper. The economy has dealt him nothing but bad cards, and yet to win the election McCain must run the table in key states.

Remember traditional key states? They include Ohio (Obama up 3.4%), Pennsylvania (Obama up 13.4), Florida (Obama up 5), Nevada (Obama up 3), New Mexico (Obama up 7.3), Colorado (Obama up 5.2), Wisconsin (Obama up 10.4), and Michigan (where McCain pulled his campaign out altogether, and Obama is up double digits).

The electoral map is full of toss-up states which should be solid Republican states. In fact, Obama is currently leading in no fewer than 9 states which George Bush carried in 2004.

If McCain doesn’t change the game dramatically, he will lose the election in a land-slide. Tonight is his last best opportunity. The question now, as it was eight days ago, is can he change the game?

The answer is still no.

The remaining question for debate-watchers is, will McCain even try? I believe he will.

McCain’s last big choice will be settled tonight. Will he stay above the fray, remain “Presidential,” only delivering soft blows to Obama tonight while attempting to explain what kind of President he would be? Or will McCain abandon his years-long “good guy” persona, and instead take over as chief Republican pit bull, and attempt to deliver a body blow to Obama which will cause voters to take a second look at their options?

Make no mistake – neither option is a winner for McCain. If he doesn’t attack hard, he will lose. Swing voters who currently seem to have few remaining doubts about Obama will have no reason to begin doubting. If he does attack hard, while he may solidify the same Republican-leaning voters who came home after the Palin V.P. choice was named, McCain will cut himself off from the very swing voters he needs to even compete in this election.

Down-ballot Republicans nation-wide need McCain to attack. They need the Republican faithful to come home and vote for them. The cost to McCain beyond this election, however, would be great. McCain invested years in his “above the partisan fray” branding, and if he attacks tonight, he will have abandoned all hope to maintain it.

Still, I think McCain would rather leave it all out on the field than concede, so I think he will attack. If he doesn’t, he would be ignoring the advice of campaign consultants who hate to lose and detest leaving cards un-played, and of the Republican candidate class which desperately needs him to round up their base and deliver it. If I’m wrong and he doesn’t attack, it will only be because he has decided for himself that he can lose in a landslide with honor, because history will blame George W. Bush, not McCain, for destroying the Republican brand (which I personally believe is the wise choice, and the accurate historical prediction).

If he does decide to attack, we’ll know it in the first 5 minutes of the show. Look for McCain to imply that Obama is trying to steal the election (key word: ACORN). Look for McCain to imply that Obama hates America (key word: Ayers).

Further complicating things for McCain is that moderator Bob Schieffer is bound to be far less passive than previous debate moderators Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, and V.P. debate moderator Gwen Ifill.

The greatest difficulty of all for John McCain is in controlling John McCain. I believe the biggest under-reported story from the second debate was that McCain almost lost control. One could see it in his face during the “that one!” moment. You could sense the frustration and tension in him throughout the second half of the show, and one could certainly sense it as he ignored Obama’s offered hand-shake following the debate, and as he and Cindy McCain left the set immediately thereafter, while the Obamas stayed for 15 more minutes, signing autographs and taking pictures with audience-members. If McCain isn’t very careful, he could have a campaign-ending melt-down.

Meanwhile, against this backdrop of seemingly-insurmountable difficulty for McCain, all Obama must do is avoid major gaffes and stave off the McCain-introduced notion that Obama is a risky and untested choice.

Sound familiar? It didn’t work for the Democratic field in the primaries either.

————–

Post debate update: McCain did indeed attack attack attack, and sure enough, it didn’t work work work. The overnight CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll results:

Who won?
Obama: 58%
McCain: 31

Favorable rating:
Obama: 66% (up 3)
McCain: 49% (down 2)

Who was better on the economy?
Obama: 59
McCain: 35

Who was better on taxes?
Obama: 56
McCain: 41

Who seemed more like a typical politician?
Obama: 35
McCain: 54

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