More Gist

September 7, 2011 6:14 p.m.

In the previous post, I said that tonight was a strategic victory for Mitt Romney and a setback for Rick Perry. The rejoinder I’m hearing from a lot of smart people is that those points are about a general election — not a Republican primary election, which is what this is. I don’t think that’s quite true in this case — the contrary argument being that Republican primary voters aren’t going to vote with general election electability in mind. And that may be true. But if it’s not, that’s a big win for President Obama. Because those statements just won’t fly with the general electorate.

I heard someone else say Mitt’s embrace of Social Security was bad news for the Democrats. Because that takes it off the table for the Democrats in the general election. Again, I don’t buy that. Because Mitt’s only saying he’s more pro-Social Security than Perry. And he’s got most of his party committed to various forms of privatization and cuts to Social Security. The more Mitt positions himself as the defender of Social Security, the more it gets him tripped up with members of his own party. That’s not the end of the world for Mitt. But I don’t think he can take it off the table against the Democrats or President Obama.

In my mind, whatever the polls say tomorrow, Mitt Romney came out of tonight with a strong argument that Rick Perry can’t win a general election. Whether that shows up today or tomorrow or whenever, that’s a thing of great value to someone in Romney’s position. So again, I score the evening a strategic victory for Romney.

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