Romney Consolidates Frontrunner Status in Economic Debate

Romney consolidated his position as the presumptive nominee, Perry continued his disintegration, Cain discovered what it was like to be a serious candidate, and Bachmann doubled down on crazy.

At a kitchen table economic debate last night, Mitt Romney consolidated his position as the presumptive nominee, Rick Perry continued his disintegration, Herman Cain discovered what it was like to be a serious candidate, Jon Huntsman enjoyed not being a serious candidate, and Michele Bachmann doubled down on crazy.

WaPo (“Mitt Romney solidifies his front-runner status in Republican debate“):

A comfortable and confident Mitt Romney solidified his front-runner status on Tuesday night in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, navigating 90 minutes of tough questions on the economy from his rivals and debate moderators.


This time, the candidate with whom Romney had to share the spotlight was Herman Cain. The businessman has soared in opinion polls but faced a crush of scrutiny in Tuesday’s debate on an economic plan that he referred to again and again but that his rivals dismissed as overly simplistic and unrealistic. Cain countered that the simplicity of his “9-9-9” plan to gut the federal tax code is its virtue, and he used it to separate himself as a bold outsider in a field of politicians.

During a portion of Tuesday’s Washington Post-Bloomberg debate in which each candidate had a chance to ask another a question, four posed queries to Romney, acknowledging his position as the one to beat.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was looking to revive his struggling campaign, seized few moments. He stayed silent for long stretches in the debate. When asked how he would fix the nation’s sputtering economy, he said only that he would develop new energy resources. Even when pressed, he offered few specifics.

“What we need to be focused on in this country today is not whether or not we are going to have this policy or that policy,” he said. “What we need to be focused on is how we get Americans working again.”

At another moment, Perry quipped: “Mitt’s had six years to be working on a plan. I’ve been in this for about eight weeks.”

In one exchange, Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza executive, challenged Romney to name all 59 points in his 160-page economic plan, suggesting that it failed Cain’s test to be “simple, transparent, efficient, fair and neutral” in contrast to Cain’s proposal.

But the former Massachusetts governor did not hesitate to make the case that the complexity of his plan reflects the complexity of the nation’s problems, and that he has the depth of experience, business know-how and ability to deal with those problems.

“I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems,” Romney said. “And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful but oftentimes inadequate. And in my view, to get this economy going again, we’re going to have to deal with more than just tax policy and just energy policy, even though both of those are part of my plan.”

Jon Huntsman, who’s presumably smart enough to know that he’s not going to catch fire this cycle, got off the best line of the night and followed it with sensible policy suggestions:

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman mocked rival Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan at the Republican presidential debate Tuesday night, quipping, as “It’s a catchy phrase, in fact I thought it was the price of a pizza.”

“Here’s what we need, something that’s doable-doable-doable,” Huntsman continued during the Bloomberg/Washington Post debate in New Hampshire.

He called for phasing out “all of the corporate welfare, all of the subsidies, because we can’t afford it any longer, in a revenue-neutral fashion” and a reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

Michele Bachmann used the same target to get off the creepiest line of the night if not the campaign.

“You turn the 9-9-9 plan upside down, and the devil’s in the details,” she said — possibly suggesting that the plan was actually “6-6-6” — the “number of the beast” in the Bible.

She also had a contender for the dumbest:

Given a chance to assail Wall Street, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann blamed too much regulation. She also said Obama wants to let Medicare collapse, pushing everyone into “Obamacare,” the health overhaul passed by congressional Democrats in 2010. [For those playing at home, Medicare is run by the federal government.]

And Rick Perry demonstrated that he just might not be smarter than a 5th grader.

“I don’t need 9-9-9, we don’t need any plan to pass Congress,” He called for a president to “free up this country’s entrepreneurs.”

Then there was Newt Gingrich, whose reputation as a great thinker continues to evaporate:

“If they want to really change things, the first person to fire is Bernanke, who is a disastrous chairman of the Federal Reserve. The second person to fire is (Treasury Secretary Tim) Geithner,” Gingrich said. “I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to be angry. … And if you want to put people in jail — I want to second what Michele said — you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and let’s look at the politicians who created the environment.”

Even hard core conservatives have realized Perry isn’t ready for prime time.

Michelle Malkin declares that people are looking for “a candidate with the guts, gall, and gumption to take on Barack Obama” and that “By those basic measures of fitness for office, Rick Perry once again failed to deliver. He was languid. Passive. Half-hearted. Listless. Just like he was during the 9/23 debate.”

Jennifer Rubin writes, “Mitt Romney has to be very pleased. He was smooth as silk, deflecting a question on RomneyCare, explaining the problems of community banks, and driving home the key message: He is the only candidate ready for prime time.” She adds, “More importantly, he didn’t need to dismantle Herman Cain. That happened at Cain’s own hands with some help from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) He managed to drop New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s name, reminding voters and press alike that this may have been his best day in the race. He even managed to get in a dig at PBS when host Charlie Rose accidentally put Santorum ahead of Romney in the alphabetical line-up for questioning other candidates. His best moment may have been in explaining his Bain experience, creating tens of thousands of net jobs and making Sports Authority, Staples and even a steel mill viable employers. If not an inside the park homerun, it was at least a stand-up triple.”

Coming off his endorsement earlier in the day by Chris Christie, Romney assumed the mantle of frontrunner and let the other candidates take on Cain, who’s the only serious contender left. More importantly, he’s already shifting into General Election mode rather than having to appease the radical instincts of the base. He’s now talking about governing, including such quaint notions as working with the opposition party, saying he would reach out to “good Democrats” to get things done as he did as governor.

The search for the Not Romney candidate isn’t over and someone else may get their turn as the top challenger. Cain is still charming and funny and Perry is still a Texan, so maybe they’re not done. But Romney is quickly demonstrating that he’s ready for the challenge of the campaign and that everyone else has a lot of catching up to do.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. An Interested Party says:

    What anguish this must cause for “real” conservatives…

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares? A bunch of second rate hacks who will never be president discussing economic policies that will never be implemented. Could anything be more irrelevant?

    Instead of spending time thinking about irrelevant candidates why not spend the time reviewing where the U.S. will be in Jan. 2013. Will Nancy Pelosi return as speaker? Will the Republicans gaina majority in the Senate. Will Congress be able to implement any spending cuts? Will a 9% unemployment rate continue on for the foreseeable future? Will any private sector corporation want to invest in the future of a country that spears to be so imcompetent and so short-sighted.

    Conservatives would be much better off ignoring irrelevant candiates and concentrating on real issues.

  3. john personna says:


    Wow, that reads as an acknowledgement of defeat.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    saying he would reach out to “good Democrats” to get things done as he did as governor.

    Romney is toast. Every good Republican knows there is no such thing as a “good Democrat”.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “You turn the 9-9-9 plan upside down, and the devil’s in the details,”

    I have been saying that for weeks. I think I am going to sue for plagiarism.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And if you want to put people in jail — I want to second what Michele said — you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and let’s look at the politicians who created the environment.”

    Would be fine except for one niggling little detail:

    Frank said Gingrich’s anger over his and Dodd’s role in the financial meltdown was absurd given that Republicans were in charge of the House and — excerpt for a brief period — Senate, from 1995 to 2007.

  7. Franklin says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: If Bachmann was a serious scholar of the Bible, she would know that the actual number of the beast is 616 and that it was translated incorrectly.

    But seriously, I thought her line (oops, I mean *your* line, Ozark) was actually clever. It’s only creepy coming from her because we know about her religious fanaticism.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    Specifics??? Nothing discussed last night would help the economy one bit. I don’t even think they are operating in the real world. Romney even had to lie about his signature accomplishment as Governor.
    I find it really difficult to imagine Obama losing to this pathetic group.

  9. Franklin says:

    And if you want to put people in jail — I want to second what Michele said — you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and let’s look at the politicians who created the environment.

    Wow, good idea! Let’s go down the same road that Ukraine is (, sending people to jail for making governing mistakes as political prisoners. Newt, old boy, you sound like a great comrade and a benevolent dictator!

    (Not to mention, shouldn’t we first concentrate on sending our war criminals to jail, like Rumsfeld and Cheney? You know, people who actually committed serious crimes?)

    Mark this down as the stupidest thing said during last night’s debate.

  10. sam says:

    Somebody help Biteric off the floor and get him to DisconsolateReactionaries Rehab.

  11. ponce says:

    Andrew Sullivan had the best debate summation:

    Huntsman I can understand and appreciate. Perry is an empty bad suit. Romney lies with such facility it unnerves me. Bachmann is a fanatic, as, although I am extremely fond of him, is Ron Paul. Santorum just seems like a lost child from the 1950s, trying to have the campaign he dreamed about when he was ten. Cain is an egomaniac businessman with a talk show host patter and a mild wit. Gingrich is a giant, gaseous asshole.

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    @Hey Norm: I’d still like to hear one of them articulate the mechanism by which shedding government sector jobs increases private sector jobs. Likely an asbestos dog will chase a paper cat through hell before that happens.

  13. Fiona says:

    I watched about ten minutes of last night’s debate and saw Romney refer to himself as a real American (as opposed to that fake American Obama), Bachmann rehash the same old nonsense about blaming the 2008 economic crash on government housing programs for minorities, and Gingrich call for the jailing of Ben Bernanke and Chris Dodd while leaving Wall Street blameless for its role in our current economic crisis. This is the best they’ve got?? Shoot me now. No wonder Christie decided not to run.

  14. Wayne says:

    Let’s see what the polls say in the next few weeks. Not that it will be over in the next few weeks. However if Romney polls go up by more than a few points then you are probably right. Otherwise you are just a bias Romney cheerleader cheering on.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Wayne: Huntsman’s my preferred candidate but he has no shot. I don’t think anyone else in the race aside from him and Romney makes a plausible challenger to Obama. And I think we’re probably down to Cain as the most plausible challenger to Romney–and he ain’t that plausible.

  16. ponce says:

    And Obama will eat Romney.

  17. Hey Norm says:

    Can you imagine the debate between Obama and Romney? Oh my. How many times would Romney change his mind during the course of it?

  18. mattb says:


    Somebody help Biteric off the floor and get him to DisconsolateReactionaries Rehab.

    To that point it was interesting to hear Rush today — he seemed the most down I’ve heard him in quite a while when discussing the “supposed inevitability” of a Romney nomination. In the segments I heard he was going out of his way to stress how un-conservative he is (referencing Romney on Climate Change and the individual mandate).

    Couple interesting things about this…

    First, Romney was Rush’s preferred candidate back in 2008 (links included below — there is some dispute as to whether or not Rush endorsed him). Anyone care to speculate how much his shift in support has to do with a shift in his audience (and their embrace of Palinesque/tea party populism) and his desire to prove he’s not part of the Republican mainstream?

    More importantly, I have to wonder if the attacks on Romney by Rush (and others) are going to McCain Romney with the base. Generally speaking, from when McCain cinched the nomination to the announcement of Palin (only longer), he had real problems igniting the base. It seems to me that much of that had to do with the fact that for months Rush and other RW Talkers had drilled it into their audiences heads that he wasn’t a good conservative. If Romney clinches early, it will be interesting to see how his campaign attempts to prevent the same sort of enthusiasm gap (perhaps naming his conservative VP very early in the process).

    Also, it looks to me that FNC and Hannity in particular are already falling behind Romney (granted Cain will get a lot of attention as a flavor of the month). It will be interesting to see if this forms a schism in Right Wing Media.

    Archive of Posts On Rush’s Support of Romney (note that two of the three are from Conservative sites):