This weekend in Little Rock, Bill Clinton and an all-star cast of political alumni will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his formal entry into the 1992 presidential race. But the candidate decision that did the most to bequeath Clinton the Democratic nomination did not occur until December 20, 1991.
Neither Rick Perry nor Mitt Romney should have been surprised by a single serious question during Thursday night’s clunker of a debate sponsored by Fox News and an obtrusive Google promoting word clouds and grainy average-citizen videos.
It was a self-inflicted, eye-glazing marathon—50 hours in late August spent watching a full sampling of the Fox News lineup. Looking back, it seems like a nine-day hallucination of strident voices, blonde hair, and more pitchmen hawking gold coins than at any time since the heyday of King Midas. Why did I volunteer for this ordeal when a rational person would have been at the beach? Not to belabor the predictable liberal lament that Fox News fails to uphold the high TV journalistic traditions of Edward R. Murrow and Eliot Spitzer.
CNN’s over-produced, odd-couple alliance with the Tea Party produced an unexpected result—the first “Not So Fast, Governor Perry” debate. Direct from Tampa, the site of the 2012 GOP Convention, the debate illustrated Perry’s vulnerabilities as the poll-propelled Republican front-runner. Nothing that happened in Tampa Monday night was so dramatic that it likely will be remembered when the Republicans drench their nominee in confetti and balloons nearly a year from now.
In his inaugural presidential debate, Rick Perry had a choice.
What Rick Perry has achieved in his inaugural strut on the political stage is unprecedented in the annals of modern conservative history from Barry Goldwater to Sarah Palin. It is not just that the Texas governor has dominated the news cycle, overshadowed the Iowa Straw Poll, vaulted over every GOP contender except Mitt Romney in the national polls, and reduced Karl Rove to sputtering frustration.
[Guest post by Walter Shapiro] Tim Pawlenty’s formal presidential campaign lasted less than 100 days—a stunning, scandal-free collapse for a man who, until recently, was considered a top-tier GOP contender. But even though Pawlenty flamed out with a weak third-place showing amid the vote-buying, corn-dog hokum of Saturday’s Iowa Straw Poll, there was a sense of inevitability to his political demise. From the beginning, Pawlenty probably was doomed to see his presidential dreams die in the corn fields of Iowa.
With enough political reporters in Iowa to cover both the Lindbergh kidnapping and the O.J. Simpson trial, Thursday night’s GOP debate had to be a defining moment, a game-changer so epic that it will shimmer in memory like Ronald Reagan. Yeah, sure. Even though Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann provided the expected fireworks, while Jon Huntsman made his muted entrance from stage center, the two-hour Fox News face-off mostly served as a reminder that we have only just begun. This was not a debate that triggered mass conversions to a single candidate.
Twenty-six years ago—as part of the price for raising the federal debt ceiling to a shocking $2 trillion—Congress, in a wave of fiscal self-flagellation, approved the Gramm-Rudman bill. If a spendthrift Congress failed to meet prescribed deficit targets, then Gramm-Rudman would slice the budget with the across-the-board subtlety of Sweeney Todd. That was the theory anyway, although legislative maneuvering left about half the budget (including Social Security, Medicare, and Defense contracts) off limits to meat-cleaver deficit reduction.
On August 13, the Iowa State campus in Ames will become the center of the political universe, as thousands of Republicans participate in what is frequently ballyhooed as the season’s most important campaign event. The GOP activists will wolf down free barbecue, enjoy musical acts, watch their children be diverted by clowns, cheer political speeches, and cast ballots in a mock election designed to preview next February’s Iowa caucuses. We are, of course, talking about the Iowa Straw Poll.