Fight Club

Rick Perry comes out swinging in Vegas but lands few punches. This race is still Romney's to lose.


Eileen Smith

In Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate from Las Vegas, we finally got what we’ve been waiting for—brazenness and bitchiness. I’m still not sure whether any of the candidates got in a complete sentence without being interrupted. Although Sen. Rick Santorum was the most yippy attack dog of the night, it was the exchanges between frontrunner Mitt Romney and one-time frontrunner turned bottom-feeder Rick Perry which got the most press. According to most of the punditry, this debate was the “make-or-break” debate for Perry, kind of like last week’s debate. (Shouldn’t he already be made or broken by now?) If you’re impressed by the shrewdness of overgrown toddlers who missed their afternoon nap, you probably think Perry nailed it.

Instead of answering a question concerning the fact that Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country, Perry decided to attack Romney on immigration in an extremely convoluted way.

PERRY: 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: Rick, I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I’m afraid — I’m looking forward to finding your facts on that, because that just doesn’t—

PERRY: Well, I’ll tell you what the facts are.

ROMNEY: Rick, I’m speaking. I’m speaking. I’m speaking. I’m speaking.

PERRY: And they want to hear you say that you knew you had illegals working at your—

ROMNEY: Would you please wait? Are you just going to keep talking?

PERRY: Yes, sir.

ROMNEY: Would you let me finish with what I have to say?

At one point Romney even put his hand on Perry’s shoulder which, in a debate, is almost like shoving someone into the next podium. It went downhill from there, with Romney adding that this has been a “tough couple of debates for Rick.” Not to say that Romney didn’t get flustered by the exchange. It’s true that at one time Romney did use a landscaping company called Community Lawn Service which happened to employ undocumented workers. But all Romney had to do was mention Perry’s support for tuition credits for undocumented immigrants to make the upkeep on his 2 1/2-acre property seem irrelevant. 

Perry was also asked once more to repudiate the comments of Pastor Robert Jeffress that Mormonism is a cult. His response, that he can “no more remove my faith than I can that I’m the son of a tenant farmer” made little to no sense but, as Perry told Anderson Cooper, “You get to ask the questions, I get to answer like I want to.” Actually that’s not really how a debate works but rules are for sissies.

Aside from a few other slip-ups—including calling Herman Cain “brother” not once but twice—Perry’s performance was an improvement over last week’s debate but only because he nodded off during that one. Perry’s poll numbers in key primary states are still dropping. The latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows Perry in sixth place in Iowa with only seven percent of the vote (Cain is on top with 28 percent and Romney’s in second with 21 percent). In the  NBC News/Marist Florida poll, Perry’s at a distant third with nine percent (Cain has a narrow lead over Romney).

But there may still be hope for Perry. A CNN/ORC International poll found that two-thirds of Republicans still haven’t made up their minds, although most say they’re likely to support Romney. Perry’s going to have to come up with something better than who’s mowing Romney’s lawn. And fast.