THE STUMP OCTOBER 19, 2011
Well, this much is clear: Rick Perry's campaign takes its cues from this blog, which just a few days ago asked in a headline, "Time for Perry to Bring up Mitt's lawn care?" Apparently, it was time. The question that came to my mind as that remarkable fracas last night was occurring was: could this turn into Mitt Romney's driver's license moment? Hillary Clinton was sailing along on an aura of inevitability in the fall of 2007, acing the debates much as Romney has done, when she found herself ganged up in a Philadelphia debate over her ambiguous stance over whether or not illegal immigrants in New York state should be allowed drivers' licenses.
It was a damaging moment because it brought to the fore all at once the less appealing side of her political persona, the trimming and calculating Hillary. There was a sudden similar risk in Perry's attack on Mitt's lawn workers (and what is it, anyway, with immigration as the issue that sparks revelatory moments in both parties' debates?) -- it reacquainted viewers very clearly with the Romney that he had managed to submerge so far in the campaign, the supremely wealthy suburban Boston pol who finds it unnervingly easy to talk away past positions or actions in blatant denial of the historical record. It will be up to viewers to decide what they make of this Mitt -- appealing to Anderson Cooper to restore order, his face red, his voice raised to a full shout -- in the constant replaying that the back and forth is sure to get in the coming days. Me, I thought the Times' Alessandra Stanley nailed it: "Romney looked a little like a country club tennis player dealing with a nonmember guest who gauchely calls a ball in that was obviously out."
Still, for this to turn into an equivalent of Hillary's driver's license moment will require that there is another candidate who is able to capitalize on this opening the way that Barack Obama was able to do then, as he deftly zeroed in on the triangulating Hillary in the Jefferson-Jackson speech in Des Moines that revived his campaign. This is the chance for Rick Perry's team to prove they're as good as everyone in Texas says they are.