Perry in the twilight zone

    There’s no point in devoting acres of space to the latest Republican debate, given the paucity of new material last night. It was akin to watching a predictable pulp-action summer movie, and by the third reel one’s eyes have long since glazed. It was also predictable that the Republican debate audience would act out in some repulsive fashion, and so it did, this time booing a gay soldier who had volunteered to put his life on the line for his country. The gay soldier appeared on video – which was fortunate for the cowardly homophobes, because this way they could safely bark their bigotry without having to confront the soldier, and his thick biceps, live and in person.And, predictably, Rick Perry sowed doubts that he deserves his front-runner status.Perry started strong before fading around the 45-minute mark, which was unfortunate for him because the debate spanned two hours. Does this guy do any debate prep, or what? (A prominent conservative analyst wonders as well.) Perry responded shakily when Mitt Romney again attacked him for his reactionary stance on Social Security, and he walked into Mitt’s trap when he declared that he was retreating “not an inch, sir” from what he wrote in his 2010 book – whereupon Romney reminded everyone that the book decreed Social Security to be unconstitutional and a total failure.Late in the game, Perry tried to retaliate by painting Romney as a flip-flopper on major issues, and there’s certainly ample ammo for that. But Perry performed his task with all the zest of a stoner listening to new-age music on his iPod.Late in the game, Perry even allowed himself to be rattled by Rick Santorum, who buzzed him so badly that he uncorked a heckuva whopper on the immigration issue. Santorum, who was delighted to have lots of air time despite his one percent standing in the Republican polls, insisted that we should build a fence spanning the entire border with Mexico, and that Perry is wrong for opposing such a fence. Perry, clearly bugged by Santorum’s incessant mosquito-like buzzings, contended that all we need is some “boots on the ground” from the federal government, because “the federal government has not engaged in this at all.” Which is a quite fascinating claim, given the fact that the federal government currently has 17,659 U.S. border agents down there – roughly double the number of patrollers on the ground in 2004.Perry also waxed incoherent while fielding one of those “3 a.m.” commander-in-chief questions. He was asked what he would do, as president, if he was awakened and informed that the Taliban had obtained nukes from Pakistan. Again, it was unfortunate for Perry that the national security questions were posed so late in the debate, during his twilight zone. This was his full response:”Well, obviously before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. That’s one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday, we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with, and that’s a terrorist group, directly associated with the Pakistani country. To have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States. For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16s, we chose not to do that. We did the same thing with Taiwan. The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by there with them. Today, we don’t have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.”The first couple sentences, while vaguely generalized, at least made some sense. But that sudden riff about India…what was up with that? Was he saying that if we sold more weapons to Taiwan, or to India (Pakistan’s longtime enemy), that such a move would somehow prevent Pakistan from selling weapons to the Taliban? Worse yet, Perry couldn’t even get his facts straight during the portion of his answer that had nothing to do with the question; turns out, he was flat wrong when he said that we “chose” not to sell F-16s to India. President Obama pushed hard for the deal, but it was India that turned the deal down.And when defending (yet again) his executive decision to order the HPV vaccine for Texas schoolgirls, he screwed up his own chronology. Rather than address the fact that he had been lobbied by a former chief of staff who worked for the makers of the vaccine, he instead stated: “I got lobbied by a 31-year-old young lady who had stage four cervical cancer. I spent a lot of time with her.”What a nice humanizing moment. The only problem is, Perry didn’t meet this stricken woman until after he had already made his executive decision.Given all these mishaps – which, after three debates, now seem eminently predictable – the real question for Republicans is whether this newbie warrants the hype that accompanied his arrival in the race. Is the front-runner really ready for prime time? That issue alone seems far more boo-worthy than gay soldiers.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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