The reviews are in of last night’s Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library. The short of it is that the debate was all about Texas Gov. Rick Perry — the newest in the field and presumed “front runner” — and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Our friend Frank James at It’s All Politics has analysis. But here’s what others are saying this morning:
— Politico’s top take-away is that Perry has now emerged as the “clear frontrunner”:
The Texas governor got the most questions from questioners Brian Williams and John Harris, but he also absorbed the most punches from his competitors. When all the energy is concentrated in one direction, it underscores who is dominating the field – and last night it was Perry who was at the center of attention.
Perry himself acknowledged the focus on him, saying at one point, “I feel a bit like a pinata.”
— The conservative National Review polled experts after the debate and the views were mixed to say the least.
Hadley Arkes, a professor of jurisprudence at Amherst College, wrote that the debate brought out one thing of importance for him. “Rick Perry persuaded me that he was not scary, and that he won’t be seen as scary by the vast public,” he wrote.
Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos could not disagree more: He said that during the debate Perry stuck to his claims that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and that is “scary stuff for seniors.”
— The New Republic’s John B. Judis makes the case that Perry will be the Republican nominee, saying he “appeared tough, confident, able to deflect criticism, and to fire back when fired upon.”
Here’s what he said about Romney:
Romney is the Nelson Rockefeller of today’s Republican party. Rockefeller, elected four times as governor of New York, was one of the most able politicians in America, but he was too liberal for the Republican party of his time. He backed civil rights and the welfare state, he was a big spender, he was pro-union. And he was also divorced. He might have won the presidency in 1960 or 1968, but he could never win the Republican nomination for president.
— Not everyone jumped on the Perry bandwagon. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza gave the night to Romney:
… Romney showed his experience and steadied himself as the proceedings wore on — repeatedly giving answers that sounded reasonable and, dare we say it, presidential. Romney continues to execute his strategy: focus on President Obama and the economy while avoiding too much back and forth with his Republican rivals. It worked (again) tonight.
— The New York Times’ Nate Silver concurred. He scored Perry’s performance a B-minus and gave Romney an A-minus. He called Perry’s “Ponzi scheme” remark “unwise” saying, “This particular remark is not likely to sit exceptionally well even with Republicans, conservative though they may be. A CNN poll published last month found 57 percent of Republicans opposed to major changes in Social Security and Medicare.”