GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry experienced the downside of his frontrunner status Monday night, when his rivals ganged up on him in a grueling two-hour CNN/Tea Party Express debate. Led by Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, several Republican candidates hammered Texas Gov. Perry over his positions on everything from Social Security to immigration. Who came out on top? Here, a brief list of winners and losers in the GOP's "great Perry pile-on":
The former Massachusetts governor's "path to the nomination became clearer Monday night," say Jonathan Martin and David Catanese at Politico. And not just because he drew blood by calling Perry's dismissal of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme over the top. The real win for Romney was the "Republican undercard" of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul chipping away at Perry's conservative bona fides on immigration, taxes, and other issues, increasing the odds that they'll "bloody Perry so much on his right flank that Romney can consolidate enough of the GOP establishment to eke out a plurality victory."
Perry's worst moment came courtesy of the Minnesota congresswoman, says Walter Shapiro at The New Republic. She "awoke midway through the debate after a month-long political slumber dating back to the Iowa Straw Poll" and attacked Perry for his "hastily abandoned 2007 attempt to vaccinate pre-teen girls in Texas against sexually transmitted diseases." The devastating exchange made Bachmann, the only woman on the Tampa stage, come across as the "defender of girls everywhere."
"It's too bad that there wasn't more talk about President Obama and his policies," says The Lonely Conservative, "and what the candidates plan to do to turn things around." Instead, the GOP infighting will be what voters remember from the CNN/Tea Party debate. And "there were quite a few moments that will surely appear on some Democratic campaign commercials."
"Perry just stood there taking shots into a sore tricep; he couldn't even turn away," says Joshua Greenman in the New York Daily News. When Romney asked a "shaky" Perry whether he still thinks Social Security is unconstitutional, Perry's "weak reply" was that the federal government made mistakes in the '30s when the program got its start. Perry also came across as soft on immigration compared to the rest of the field, with his rivals blasting his extension of taxpayer-subsidized tuition to the children of illegal immigrants.
Note to Ron Paul: The day after the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is not a good time to repeat your view that U.S. foreign policy is partly to blame for the terrorist attacks, says Jason M. Volack at ABC News. "Opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... has been a cornerstone of Paul's candidacy and sets him apart from the rest of the Republican field." But now voters will just remember Paul getting booed for suggesting that America was to blame for 9/11.
The "biggest loser" of the night was the Republican Party itself, says Doyle McManus at the Los Angeles Times. In 2012, the GOP's prospects could hinge on whether it can present itself "as a big-tent organization that can appeal to the center." But if the Tea Party, which solidified its position of prominence with this debate, "gets the kind of candidate it demands, the GOP will face trouble in the general election. Fed-bashing, immigrant-bashing and uninsured-patient-bashing won't win a majority" against President Obama.