Rick Perry and the other Republican presidential candidates take the stage

Having invested two whole hours watching the Iowa Republican presidential debate, I feel obliged to come up with something that I’ve learned about the eight announced candidates on the eve of their being joined by Texas Governor Rick Perry:

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney remains the unofficial frontrunner, having committed no major gaffes, and having absorbed only minor blows from his rivals. He is stuck with having designed the Massachusetts prototype for what Republicans call “Obamacare”, but which rival Tim Pawlenty prefers to call “Obamneycare”. Outside the debate, while speaking at the Iowa State Fair, Romney was caught on tape telling hecklers that, “Corporations are people, too,” a sound bite we will be hearing again if Mitt becomes the nominee.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty picked fights with both Romney and fellow Minnesotan Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. That he would attack the only female candidate in the race as ineffective because she couldn’t derail “Obamacare” when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, simply showed how desperate Pawlenty is to find some traction in Iowa. A poor showing there, and the Pawlenty campaign for president is over.

Michele Bachmann got some sympathy when one of the moderators asked whether, if elected President, she would be submissive to her husband consistent with their Christian beliefs. She gave a plausible but evasive answer, that submission means respect, sufficient to keep her in the race as Romney’s chief rival.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, though still a long shot, stood out for his willingness to support civil unions for gay citizens. Congressman Ron Paul stood out for his condemnation of America’s wars and attempts to threaten and coerce countries we don’t like.

Why are Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum running for president in the absence of any popular support for their campaigns? Do they really have nothing better to do with their lives? Are they hoping to become media celebrities like Sarah Palin?

And then there’s Governor Rick Perry who was able to skip the Iowa debate but will join the race with his announcement this weekend. He is billed as a crossover candidate who can draw from both the economic conservative and social conservative wings of the Republican Party. He will campaign on the claim that Texas leads the country in job creation.

But as a presidential candidate, Perry’s claims will draw scrutiny he hasn’t had before. How many of those jobs came with more than minimum wage, and how many were taken by illegal immigrants? Does Perry, like his predecessor as Texas Governor, George W. Bush, also favor an amnesty for illegal immigrants? What, if anything, has Texas done to support enforcement of immigration laws?

Sarah Palin has supported and campaigned for both Bachmann and Perry. As long as one or both remain viable Palin will stay out of the race. But she continues to hang around, popping up at the Iowa State Fair on the eve of the straw poll. So if both Bachmann and Perry should falter, Palin remains available as their replacement for a shortened but dramatic and image-building campaign.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal