As we saw in the last debate, frontrunner Rick Perry started off strong, then lost altitude as the night wore on. He was sharp on jobs and entitlements -- subjects that were covered during the debate's fantastic and substantive opening half. One of his weakest moments (aside from his borderline-incoherent foreign policy answer) came during a feisty exchange on his since-rescinded executive order mandating HPV vaccinations for middle-school-aged girls in Texas. His first stab at the answer wasn't bad; essentially, "my heart was in the right place, but I went about things the wrong way, and corrected my mistake." After Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum piled on, though, he unraveled a little bit (via Breitbart TV):
If there had been a thought bubble hovering over Mitt Romney's head throughout this excruciating brou-ha-ha, it would probably have read, "Good. Gooood." Look, I understand Perry's indignation over the suggestion that a drug company bought him off. That was an unfair accusation by Bachmann. But his retort sounded sort of like, "look lady -- if someone's going to buy Rick Perry, they're going to have to spend a lot more than five grand." Of course that's not what he meant, but it sounded that way. And how a candidate sounds is important. Perry's record in Texas is pretty damn impressive, but there are other skills necessary to winning the presidency. Being able to articulate one's thoughts and parry attacks effectively and spontaneously must be part of the mix. I think Commentary's John Podhoretz nails it when he writes that Perry "better get better:"
The main problem here, though, is that he seems to think he can wing these debates by referring to what he did in Texas here and what he did in Texas there. That is insufficient not just when it comes to giving voters a chance to judge him by the policy choices he might make; it’s insufficient because it suggests he thinks he can get away without getting specific and demonstrating a command of national and international issues.
In all honestly, the potency of the Gardasil issue will probably fade as time passes. Perry's immigration stances will not. As Townhall's resident RINO, I'm not opposed to some of his controversial immigration policies, but he's got to get a lot sharper at defending himself and explaining his thinking. This won't cut it: