Perry and Thrust
I am sure I wasn’t the only person to be disappointed by the artificially contrived format for last night’s Republican presidential debate on MSNBC. I understand the media outlet’s desire to capitalize on the interest surrounding Texas Governor Rick Perry’s entrance into the race and his quick rise in the polls, and 10 to 15 minutes of Perry-vetting on the front end of the debate would have been fine. But the moderators’ focus on manufacturing conflict around Perry throughout the entire debate, coupled with John Harris’ surprisingly rocky stint as co-host, proved to be fatiguing as the night wore on.
Given that Rick Perry was the guest of honor last night, my sense is that he did ok, although I am not yet convinced that he is optimally positioned to unite the Republican Party as its nominee. He was a bit too ideologically constrained and repetitive in his answers, and he clearly needs to dig deeper into his briefing books on some issues. But he probably did well enough to further consolidate the Tea Party crowd behind his candidacy, much to the chagrin of Michele Bachmann (and probably Sarah Palin, for that matter).
My big hesitation with Perry continues to be whether he can serve as a bridge between movement conservatives and establishment moderates in the party. I think the verdict is still out on that question, especially after watching Mitt Romney outflank him with his defense of Social Security. Romney, by the way, had a fine night, and I think there is a danger in underestimating him simply because he doesn’t evoke passion from the Tea Party crowd with the intensity that Perry, Bachmann, and Palin do. I understand the electoral potency of the Tea Party movement, but also the limitations of an overly narrow view of the Republican primary electorate.

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