Politics
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes a statement during a Fox News/Google debate Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, Pool) Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes a statement during a Fox News/Google debate Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, Pool)  

Pundits: Romney the ‘clear winner’ of Orlando GOP debate

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Will Rahn
Senior Editor

While there is still plenty of time for him to recover, political pundits from both left and right argue Texas Governor Rick Perry had yet another lackluster debate Thursday night. That’s good news for his chief rival, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and it may allow some room for second-tier candidates looking to pick up traction.

In an editorial blasting the entire GOP field, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol writes “no front-runner in a presidential field has ever, we imagine, had as weak a showing” as the Texas Governor.

“It was close to a disqualifying two hours for him,” says Kristol.

“Mitt Romney was the clear winner of last night’s debate,” writes Taegan Goddard of the influential Political Wire.

Slate’s Dave Weigel, who gives Romney an “A” for his performance last night, notices the other candidates’ inability to effectively attack his sometimes glaring weaknesses as a candidate. This arrangement “would have been unimaginable a few months ago” when Romney was leading in the polls but “as long as Perry rides high, it’s true.”

The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein, often a harsh critic of Romney’s centrist political record, also thinks the former Massachusetts Governor benefited from Perry’s at times “incoherent” attempts to answer the moderators’ questions.

“Mitt Romney is an incredibly vulnerable Republican candidate,” Klein writes, “from his numerous policy reversals to his championing of the Massachusetts health care law that served as the basis from Obamacare. But for him to lose, somebody else has to beat him.” Klein worries that, like Tim Pawlenty before him, Perry will be unable to “exploit Perry’s weaknesses” among the GOP’s base.

“Romney did so much better than Perry,” writes RedState founder Erick Erickson. “So much better. But I still cannot believe these candidates have pulled their punches on Romneycare. He’s getting a free pass on it. But his answers on so many questions, while smoothly delivered, were Democrat like.” Though he says Romney may have had the upper hand over Perry, Erickson argues that the real winner of was Herman Cain.

University of Virginia professor and political prognosticator Larry Sabato agrees that Romney was the obvious winner. “I question any analyst who argues that Perry beat Romney, or even tied him,” he wrote last night on Twitter. “This was Romney’s debate.” However, Sabato also cautioned that it’s still early in the primary process, and Romney’s victory is anything but assured.

New York magazine’s Jon Chait wonders if Perry, who he says “at times appeared to be drugged,” is still recovering from a recent operation on his back. Chait says Romney won the night but still has serious vulnerabilities as a candidate. Perry’s “overarching condemnation of Romney is as a slippery, quasi-Democratic figure,” he writes. “Romney has nothing anywhere near so strong to deploy against Perry.”

At The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan, one of President Obama’s most loyal and prominent defenders on the Internet, was disgusted by the crowd’s booing of an openly gay soldier, and ended his live-blogging coverage on a characteristically over-the-top note.

“My take: a horrible night for Perry,” he writes. “Therefore another great night for Romney. Now I want to go somewhere dark and slit my wrists.”

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