Another week has come and gone in this seemingly interminable campaign season. We've notched debate number seven -- SEVEN, as in the David Fincher movie where Kevin Spacey puts Gweneth Paltrow's head in a box! (SPOILER ALERT, SORRY) -- and now, for a moment, we catch a respite from these repeated gatherings of nominees and moderators and YouTube questioners. We'll miss the soothing teevee backgrounds -- most debates are going with a cerulean shade of blue that acts as a visual form of diazepam -- but we're going to savor this break from debating. It's going to last all of 19 days, you know. Then we get hit with two debates within seven days of one another before a merciful two-month break in which there are only two debates scheduled.
Let this sink in: We will endure 13 debates before a single caucus gathers in Iowa and we actually get to start deciding this thing!
Of course, last time out, the Democrats got locked into a deathmatch between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which meant primary debates just between the two of them continued well into the spring. Should you expect the same to happen? Jonathan Bernstein says no. "The most likely resolution is still a quick knock-out, one way or the other," he says, with "one way" being Rick Perry and "the other" being Mitt Romney. And we don't know if we're agreeing because his argument makes a lot of sense or just because we're desperate for mercy. Per Bernstein:
I certainly wouldn’t rule out an evenly matched contest that goes deep into primary season, but the history of these things strongly suggests that an earlier resolution is more likely. Of course, even if it's effectively decided by Iowa (and ratified in South Carolina, which is how these things most often play out), it will still have been a long, drawn-out battle. It's just that most of it is taking place right now, not in 2012. So as the Republicans get ready to debate yet again this Thursday, don't imagine that these are just the preliminaries and that the real fight takes place next year. So if you want to get a sense of who Obama will face next year, tune in right now.
So, anyone getting the sense that Obama is going to be facing Mitt Romney? Because we're getting the sense that Obama is going to be facing Mitt Romney!
Why? Well, in Rick Perry, we're seeing a guy who looks as if he thought this was going to be easy. But he's been caught unawares by issues he clearly didn't imagine he'd have to confront -- like immigration and this HPV matter. It looks for all the world that Perry actually believed he was going to be able to go out on stage, say the words "jobs miracle," connect Romney to ObamaCare, glibly fend off some concerns about Social Security and call it a day. The media set Perry up as the guy who'd unify all the strands of the GOP base, and damn, if the guy didn't buy his own hype at retail prices. Last night, he wasn't so much "debating" as he was having a thermonuclear war with the language center of his own brain, and after watching the field pile on his tied tongue as Romney danced and feinted away from his attacks, Perry finally had this strange moment when he called his competitors "heartless."
What? Is this the Rick Perry we were promised? This mumbling mess who's two beats from going fetal? The guy who's having an "808s and Heartbreak" moment out there on the stage? This could be a quicker knockout than even Bernstein thought.
But Perry's flailing still creates opportunities, perhaps even for the perennially dismissed Ron Paul, who's sitting on a ton of money and a strong case to be made that Rick Perry, at his core, is just a bunch of ideas he cribbed from Paul in order to sell a book. Last night, Paul was talking aspirationally about being a top-two candidate. This is his shot.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, President Barack Obama has a slew of new, mostly terrible polling numbers to worry about, Herman Cain is running out of things to talk about, Michele Bachmann's need of Ed Rollins is starting to show, and Newt Gingrich is going back to the past to salvage his future. Plus, we welcome someone back to the debating stage and bid farewell to another candidate. But to find out who managed, at the very least, to outlast Tim Pawlenty, you've got to enter the Speculatron for the week of September 23, 2011.