When Perry Met Romney

The governors square off while the others look on.


Eileen Smith

When Rick Perry stepped onto the stage Wednesday night to debate—or, at the very least, acknowledge—his fellow Republican candidates, no one was more excited than the salivating media punditry gathered in Simi Valley. It was as if they were waiting for…Superman. And why not? Campaigning in New Hampshire last weekend, Perry told the crowd, in response to a young boy’s earnest question, that if he could be any superhero, he’d be Superman. Because Superman came to save the United States. 

Unfortunately Superman did not swoop in to save Perry in the debates. Maybe Perry managed to hold his own against Mitt Romney, but that’s like saying he held his own against a cyborg (and the cyborg will still probably get the nomination). Perry and Romney argued over who created the most jobs and who’s the most like Michael Dukakis. In the beginning half of the debate, Perry looked cocky and self-assured. Later on, he seemed lost and confused and out of his league when confronted with real issues. When asked why Texas has the most uninsured people in the country, he predictably dodged the question by blaming the federal government. He did, however, mention that his wife Anita is a nurse so that should make all those uninsured folks feel better. 

Perry was also asked about Texas having some of the worst high school graduation rates, and why he cut millions of dollars in education funding. Perry said twice that we’ve “made progress” since he’s been governor before pointing to the fact that we share a border with Mexico. That must be where all the bad students are coming from.

But Perry was more than willing to address his provocative claims that Social Security amounts to a Ponzi scheme. He could have taken this opportunity to tone it down, to say that he wants to fix the most popular entitlement program, not throw it out. He could have apologized by telling seniors everywhere that he must have been having a “senior moment” when he said such a ridiculous thing. Instead, he repeated his assertion, seemingly based on nothing, that it’s a total failure.

People who are on Social Security today, men and women who are receiving those benefits today, or individuals at my age that are in line pretty quick to get them, they don’t need to worry about anything. But I think the Republican candidates are talking about ways to transition this program, and it is a monstrous lie.

It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there. Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right.

When asked about immigration reform, Perry again blamed the Feds for ignoring his requests for more “boots on the ground” and predator drones. He then denounced the president as an “abject liar.” For good measure and tea party props.

On issues of national security, Perry did give Obama partial credit for taking out Osama bin Laden, but mostly just to buy some time. He didn’t seem to know how to elaborate on his “philosophy” that America shouldn’t be engaged in “military adventurism.”

Perhaps Perry’s most awkward exchange was when he was asked about the science of climate change.

Well, I do agree that there is—the science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just—is nonsense. I mean, it—I mean—and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

Clearly his advisers had not prepped him for that one. Perry added that we shouldn’t be listening to “some scientist somewhere saying, ‘Here is what we think is happening out there.’” Yes, it’s time we all stop listening to that one mad scientist we’ve been blindly listening to for decades.

In what was the most surreal moment of the debate, Brian Williams asked Perry about Texas executing 234 death row inmates during his tenure, more than any other governor in modern times. Williams was interrupted by the crowd bursting into applause.  He then asked if Perry had ever struggled with the thought that Texas had executed an innocent man. Not surprisingly, he said he’s never struggled with that at all. (That’s right. Not even with Cameron Todd Willingham.)

There are two more Republican debates this month. In Florida. If I were Perry, I’d bring some serious security detail. And, if he’s available, Superman.