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Shields and Brooks on the GOP Debate

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 23, 2011

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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, what did you think of the Republican debate?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought, Jim, that it wasn't a good night for Rick Perry, who...

JIM LEHRER: So you agree with the Republican consensus that he did not do well?

MARK SHIELDS: I agree, yes, and I think Judy's own reporting down there.

I would say this. Rick Perry is at an enormous disadvantage. Usually, a candidate, when he starts out or she starts out running for president, you can spend time in Kankakee and (INAUDIBLE) at the Lions Club or the Rotary Club polishing your lines, getting ready, kind of going through a shakedown cruise and boot camp.

He plunged right into it, and he had not, obviously, thought about running for president since he was a sophomore in high school, like most of these people have. Otherwise, he wouldn't have written that book last year.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: So, he -- and he not only entered in a hurry. He entered right at the top spot. So he got intense scrutiny coming in. And I think it shows.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that's the problem? He just didn't -- he wasn't ready to be the front-runner?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, he's had some time to study up. And he does have a staff. They prepared him.

And it hasn't just been one debate. It's been three consecutive debates where he's been successively bad. He tends to be good in the first 20 or 30 minutes. He's fine. Then he looks like he needs a little power shake or something like that, because he just runs out of steam and it gets worse and worse.

This time, he hurt himself not only by being inarticulate and unclear, but by saying some things about the illegal immigration, I think, for the paying tuition for the kids of illegal immigrants, that will sincerely hurt him and offend him with people. So, I actually think this will hurt him.

And the second thing to be said is, Romney is phenomenally better than he was four years ago. And there, what Mark says is in -- in the inverse. He's been running for five years. And so not only does he know what to say, but there's a sort of calmness, and he has the ability to think more quickly on his feet.

So, even last night, when he had a chance to call Obama a socialist, and maybe offend general election voters, he...

JIM LEHRER: He didn't do it.

DAVID BROOKS: ... could see around that corner. And so Romney -- one of the big surprises to me is how good Romney is, actually.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree? Romney is really right...

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Romney -- Romney is good. Romney -- David said five years. I would say eight years he's been running. And he never stopped run.

And his book, in contrast to Perry's book, which is sort of a cri de coeur, this is what I believe, I hate Washington, is Perry's book, Romney's is tested. It's focus-group-tested, everything in it. So he can quote lines. It was intended as a campaign document and it is a campaign document.

I would agree with David that Romney's had three good debates. I remember, in 2008, the buzzword was authenticity. People were looking for authenticity. And I think both McCain and Obama in separate ways represented what voters were looking for in authenticity in 2008.

I think that could be a problem with Romney. There's a lack of spontaneity. It is very well-rehearsed. It's very well-polished. And the other thing that was missing in this that struck me, Jim, is that this is a different Republican Party from George Bush's.

George Bush ran for president as a governor of Texas, trumpeting the fact that he had gotten 50 percent of the Latino vote when he ran for re-election in 1998, and calling for No Child Left Behind, a federal effort to raise education, public education standards.

The one compassionate conservative on that stage last night was Rick Perry, when he talked about the daughter of an undocumented immigrant who worked her way through school while her mother might have been taking care of -- working in a nursing home, and she got qualified to get into the university.

And Mitt Romney, who was born into the lap of luxury, says, how you can possibly give this away, $100,000 scholarship, to this illegal alien?

And I just, boy, I thought a meanness came through in that debate that was unappealing.

JIM LEHRER: You see meanness?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I think -- I mean, the party really doesn't like illegal immigration. And they don't want -- they don't feel that people who are maybe making $40,000 a year should be subsidizing illegal -- and who can't afford college should be subsidizing kids who came here illegally, their families came here illegally.

That's not -- maybe not my entire view, but I can see the point of view. The big question -- and Mark raises it -- is, how different is the Republican Party? Clearly, the people who are showing up at these things are different. Clearly, the Republican Party has moved somewhat to the right. They're somewhat angry at the way the country is going.

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