The South Carolina debate doesn’t count, missing, as it was, Mitt Romney and anyone other than Tim Pawlenty who could be considered a serious contender for President. So last night’s New Hampshire event was the de facto campaign kickoff.
Here’s what we learned since South Carolina:
- Herman Cain is James Stockdale without the self-awareness. He didn’t understand what “right of return” meant in the context of Israel and a Palestinian state; said he wouldn’t appoint a Muslim to his administration or as a Federal judge (Sharia Law being a creeping threat in this country); and suggested that Barack Obama was raised in Kenya.
- Newt Gingrich was serious when he said campaigns like his come along “once or twice in a century”; being fired by your staff being just one example of his unique campaign narrative. This awesome statement from spokesman Rick Tyler being another (go here for John Lithgow dramatic reading). Sadly, Tyler is one of the senior staff who quit, so we won’t have that kind of fun going forward.
- Rick Santorum is a jackass. But we knew that already.
- Gary Johnson. I mean, when a debate lets Herman Cain participate but shuts you out, that’s all you really need to know.
- Ron Paul is your crazy uncle. He can sound reasonable, and even be right about one or two things (foreign intervention, Patriot Act) but he goes off the rails on almost everything else.
- Don’t misunderestimate Michelle Bachmann. She looks good, she doesn’t sound as batshit crazy as she actually is, and can marshall Tea Party/social conservative support. I’d call her a thinking person’s Sarah Palin, to the extent that thinking people might suspend enough thinking to support her. Also – and this is really a plus for her – she really stands out on a stage with six men.
- Tim Pawlenty is dead meat. I’m with Josh Marshall on this: if you criticize someone in an interview, you need to be able to repeat that criticism to their face. Pawlenty’s lack of nerve (in the video above) may not be the only reason he won’t win the GOP nomination, but it will be if it needs to be. Pawlenty didn;t start out with a passionate following or a strong identity – now he’s Michael Dukakis. Say what you will about Obama, but he sat 3 feet from John McCain in 2008 and told him he was wrong.
- Mitt Romney is probably more afraid of the man who wasn’t there – Texas Governor Rick Perry – than anyone who was (save, perhaps, Bachmann).
Romney may actually prefer that Perry come in and fight Bachmann over the fringe vote, but the danger is that Perry has the look that Romney has plus more time as a Governor and solid wingnut credentials. And Perry could raise millions of dollars in about ten minutes.
Still, Romney had to come out of last night’s soiree feeling pretty good, because no one in their right mind thinks anyone else on that stage could beat Barack Obama in 17 months, and the most critical ideology of the modern GOP is that Barack Obama has got to go. Romney’s most fervent hope is that a fever wave of pragmatism sweeps the GOP primary electorate, because that’s his path to the nomination.
Should he get there, he can add Bachmann to his ticket to shore up his conservative cred.
But I think Perry is even money to steal it from him.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that I left John Huntsman out of this. In a sane party, Huntsman would be a top-tier candidate. Poor bastard doesn’t stand a chance.