Rick Santorum’s only had two chances to talk tonight - as he pointed out - but he’s making the most of them. To our ears, Santorum’s had the most effective attack so far on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, by asking the (famously tax averse) New Hampshire audience: “How many people here are for a sales tax?”
He has also driven the point home repeatedly that his experience in Washington gives him a more realistic sense of what can actually pass - arguing previously that his jobs plan “would pass tomorrow.” And he used the same point to argue that Romney’s repeated claim that he would issue a waiver to the states on Obamacare is essentially meaningless.
Last week, Decoder wondered if Herman Cain’s meteoric rise in the polls would earn him a center-stage podium at tonight’s Republican debate. The answer: yes. Per Politico, Cain and Mitt Romney will hold the two center-stage spots at this evening’s confab. See the diagram here.
Cain, at 18 percent, is now just two points behind Romney in the latest Gallup poll. Three weeks ago, the spread was Romney 24 percent, Cain 5 percent. Notably, Rick Perry’s support in that period was cut in half, from 31 percent to 15 percent.
In a radio interview today, Cain gave a nod to his top-tier status, declaring he would be “going after Romney” tonight, and adding: “I don’t need to go after Perry.”
But with that coveted center-stage spot comes extra scrutiny. In a much-quoted interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Cain has indicated he’s ready for the “gotcha” questions:
“When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know? And then I’m going to say, ‘how’s that going to create one job?’”
Putting aside whether “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” will cut it when it comes to demonstrating foreign policy chops, we expect that Cain’s “9-9-9” economic plan - calling for a 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent income tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax - will come under attack for the first time tonight. Cain’s GOP opponents are already arguing that the numbers don’t add up. And Bruce Bartlett offers an in-depth analysis of the plan in today’s New York Times, calling it “exceptionally ill-conceived.”
We also expect Cain to come under fire for some of his more controversial statements - like his characterization of black voters as “brainwashed,” and his repeated insistence that the US legal system is in danger of being infiltrated by Sharia law.
Then there’s this: The guy used to host a talk radio show. Think he may have said some, um, controversial things on the air? Let the opposition research begin. (Among other things, Romney can point to this glowing endorsement Cain gave him in 2008.)
When it comes to explaining Cain’s sudden popularity, Decoder thinks GOP strategist Matthew Dowd offers one of the best recent analyses. In his National Journal column over the weekend, Dowd wrote:
Americans are looking for a happy warrior. Somebody who is passionate, is willing to fight the good fight, and bring us together. A leader who gets up everyday, says rise and shine, and excitedly says we can do this, let’s go. And in watching the Republican debates thus far, the only candidate I have seen who consistently come across that way emotionally is Cain.
Cain argues in his book that people need to take responsibility for their own success, to be a “CEO of Self.” This mantra is appealing to many, Dowd says, because it eschews a sense of victimhood.
The flip side of that, however, is that Cain can also come across as, frankly, less than compassionate. Cain’s recent comments that the Occupy Wall Street protestors are "anti-American" and that "if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself" will likely come up at tonight’s debate.
Along similar lines, Cain writes in his book that “50 percent of the American public are clueless as to what’s going on. And that simply means that the rest of us have to work harder to get smarter people to the polls to basically outvote those that are clueless.”
These sorts of comments may appeal to certain segments of the GOP base. But Decoder thinks many voters may also see them as crossing a line - where bootstrap individualism becomes a kind of hard-hearted elitism.
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In the Wall Street Journal, Paul Gigot writes:
Many Republicans are still looking for a candidate who combines conviction with the ability to beat President Obama. Mitt Romney looks electable but no one knows what he believes. Rick Perry projects conviction and leadership but has looked shaky in debates defending his views.
My guess is Mr. Christie would immediately join the front-runners in the polls, he’d be able to raise plenty of money, and his chances would then depend on whether his message meets the moment. Mr. Christie may decide for personal and political reasons not to run. But one of those reasons should not be his electoral prospects. The GOP nomination is eminently winnable, and on current economic trends so is the presidency.
We just got the requisite ugly moment. Following a video from a gay service-member asking if the candidates would reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a few loud “boos” echoed through the debate hall. Appropriate, then, that Rick Santorum was the man to answer. Unsurprisingly, his answer was yes.
Two thoughts on this:
Rick Perry, painting Mitt Romney as cozy with Obama’s educational policy. Mitt’s response? “Nice try.” (via shortformblog)
Mitt Romney looks very comfortable tonight, in Decoder’s eyes. You can watch for yourself online here, but Perry has come at him on education and social security and he’s handled it quite well.
(That’s despite a slight stammer responding to Perry’s charges that he supports some Obama administration education policies.)
In an interview with USA Today published this morning, Romney said:
I’ve now been experienced enough in the political sphere to know that you sleep a lot better if you express your views honestly and you don’t worry about the outcome.
Perhaps this is a less-robotic Romney in the debate fray.
Mitt Romney, referencing China’s currency policies. (via shortformblog)
Romney is really the only candidate who has taken a serious shot at China. Decoder has been waiting for Jon Huntsman, President Obama’s former ambassador to China, to get into Romney’s craw over this.
Remember how we covered that debate last week? Well, imagine us doing it again. CNN’s hosting another debate full of excitement tonight, this one sponsored by Tea Party Express. DC Decoder’s in, too. Will Wolf Blitzer ask the candidates inane questions that have nothing to do with anything, like John King did? Will CNN tease Twitter at every opportunity, or throw QR codes on the screen? Let’s find out. The debate starts at 8 p.m. EDT.
Amen to all that. Catch up with your friends at Decoder for our patented pre-game debate guide this evening.
After last week’s GOP debate, many pundits argued that Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s comments on Social Security (calling it a “Ponzi scheme”) had made him all but unelectable.
But so far, it doesn’t seem to be hurting his standing among Republican voters. In the lastest CNN/ORC poll, Perry holds a comfortable 12-point lead over his next closest rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Even when asked which candidate is most electable, Perry is ahead of Romney, though his lead does shrink to 6 points.
At tonight’s debate (in senior-heavy Florida), Social Security will be front and center once more. And once again, we see Perry not running away from it but actually trying to turn it into an advantage. In an op-ed in today’s USA Today, he presents himself as the truth-teller in the race, writing:
For too long, politicians have been afraid to speak honestly about Social Security. We must have the guts to talk about its financial condition if we are to fix Social Security and make it financially viable for generations to come.
Perry’s trying to cast his stance on Social Security as a sign of toughness - and casting his rivals as more “traditional politicians” who are afraid to face the issue squarely. Might not be a bad strategy…
Romney delivers a jobs-focused response to a question on immigration, arguing that lax hiring enforcement attracts illegal immigrants. This keeps jobs—his perceived strong suit—in the picture.
But somewhat strange, don’t you think, that American businesses are the “magnet” that draws illegal immigrants because they are “willing” to hire illegal workers? Will have to dig up the figures, but I don’t think most Americans blame American businesses for illegal immigration. Decoder couldn’t really suss out the real point of that message, unless it was wall-to-wall jobs. What do you think?
“That individual:” Rick Perry just refused to refer to Rick Santorum by name. Ouch.
The clique politics of presidential debates: The cool kids do not refer to the uncool kids. If you’re ahead in the polls (Romney, Perry), you avoid talking about the laggards at all cost. If you’re behind, as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is, you shoot at the cool kids with as many bullets as you think you can get away with.
Tearing down those who trail you in the polls doesn’t net you any benefits as a leading contender. In fact, you risk getting taken into an argument where the opponent has far less at stake than you do - and could go for the jugular.