It seems clear from last night's GOP roundtable debate that Rick Perry is either unwilling or unable to improve his debating skills. I mean, if you can't attack Romney as a flip-flopper, even after a month of prep, you really shouldn't be at that table. I'm sure Perry has some fine qualities, but debating isn't one of them.
Romney, meanwhile, has really thrived in the debates. He consistently comes off as informed, eloquent, and comfortable. He can attack without appearing petty, and he can defend his stance on health reform quite capably, even if it doesn't make a ton of sense. He's even funny once in a while, something others (I'm looking at you, Huntsman) keep failing to be.
What of the others? You can pretty much forget them. Yes, Cain is currently polling well, but lest we forget, polls do not predict presidential nominations. Endorsements do a much better job of that task, and those are leaning strongly Romney's way. (Cain isn't even on the chart.) Yglesias accurately describes the non-Romney-Perry part of the contest as essentially a book tour.
So why would I say that Perry is still viable? Because Romney remains a bitter pill for much of the GOP to swallow. Yes, the Mormon thing is a problem for the Evangelicals in the Republican base, but my sense is that the bulk of them would be still find a way to turn out votes for a Mormon over whatever they think Obama is. Of greater concern is the fact that Romney is a really unreliable conservative. Sure, as long as he believes he needs the right's support to get into or stay in office, he'll advocate what they want, but can they trust him to stay faithful to the cause? I imagine that a President Romney would work quite well with a Democratic Congress. That thought has to terrify conservative activists.
So what do you do if you're a conservative activist? You go with Perry. There really isn't much of an alternative right now. You reassure yourself that debates don't matter all that much, that Obama is pretty vulnerable, and that Perry has some retail politicking skills that will benefit him greatly in the next year. Until Perry proves that he absolutely can't win a general election (and we're not there yet), I would expect a lot of Republicans to stick with him. And this Michael Bay-esque appeal would, I imagine, win more than a few activists over to Perry's side (h/t Steve Greene).
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