After tonight’s Bloomberg debate it’s pretty clear to me that what Peter had earlier said is indeed true—the Republican nomination field can be boiled down to Romney v. Cain. On the big Charlie Rose round table tonight, Rick Perry—in the few instances he actually said anything—drowsily stuttered “T-T-Texas” so many times that I was practically wasted in my drinking game where the rules made you drink every time he said “Texas” (“Governor of Texas” required two drinks). Perry has problems, not the least of which is that, after tonight, he looks weaker than Rick Santorum who at least demonstrated an ability to step up to the table to defend his case. Instead, Perry kept silent throughout most of the debate. No doubt, during the debate Newt got his shots at the media, the “hippies” of Occupy Wall Street (I forget the term he actually used), and Washington bureaucrats. Hunstman made jokes about 999 as a pizza delivery gimmick. Nonetheless, the story taken from tonight’s debate ought to be that Perry tanked, and that Romney and Cain did well enough to pull ahead. As Peter said, it’s Romney v. Cain.

In reality, I suspect this actually means that Romney, with name his name recognition, money and organization will outlast Cain’s 999 mantra. It is also true that the Perry campaign has a lot of money (is it $17 million?), but in running for president of the USA he needs to realize that he can’t simply run for governor of Texas. But who knows what will happen? This has so far been a weird Republican nomination test, and since both Cain and Romney came out in favor of TARP tonight, who knows what the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party will think of that? Will Ron Paul surge ahead? These questions will not be able to enliven the comatose Perry—questions which are the least of his problems whether in the primaries (i.e., his “soft” stance on immigration) or in the general election (i.e., let’s just call it his Texasness). So I think it’s still Romney v. Cain.

I recognize that televised debates are not the primary and caucus events themselves, and that this was a Bloomberg debate that many did not watch in the first place. As an evangelical preacher friend of mine tweeted in response to a tweet of my own regarding tonight’s debate—“Who cares?” That sentiment may be true in the larger scheme of things (and true in the minor schematic fact that primaries and caucuses don’t begin until next year), but as Fred Barnes has written, these debates have had some important consequence regarding potential Republican voters about who ought to be their party’s nominee. The topsy-turvy nature of who is the Republican leader in this fight has been (with a small plurality for Romney) entertaining to watch. It has also been informative about the character and policy of the individual candidates. As Barnes says, one wonders whether this good vetting process has helped the Obama re-election campaign.

After six or seven debates (I forget), when it comes to questions of political economy, Cain wants simplicity in the 999 plan. The question, apart from the actual policy feasibility of 999, becomes whether in his promotion of this simple plan he can make the necessary compromises in order for it to be realized in the first place. Cain speaks of leadership, but he overestimates his own charisma, and misunderstands the potentiality of the modern (even rhetorical) presidency—as its maximum feasibility has been made problematically evident after each president, whether Republican and Democratic, has historically offered Deals and Greatness and Hope over and over again throughout the 20th and now 21st centuries.

Romney has a detailed plan (he mentioned the brilliant Gregory Mankiw as a potential economic advisor), and unlike Cain he doesn’t want a complete overhaul of how we manage the public finances which provide the government subsidies that most Americans see as enabling a middle-class way of life that they have become accustomed to. Yet like Cain Romney too emphasizes leadership. Somehow he wants us to believe that his leadership charisma, bolstered by a national majority, will persuade the particular majorities that a Republican or Democratic Congress –let alone the American people—truly manifests itself. It may be true that Tocquevillian individualism has homogenized public opinion to such an extent that such general and national leadership would be possible. However, the reaction to Obama’s policies makes me wonder whether this is actually true—let alone whether such speech of leadership is desirable. The Wilmoore Kendall local liberty that is allegedly in your hips is still evident in my milquetoast, Wal-Mart shopping, exurban community.

So Cain wants a simple plan, and Romney remains the technocrat. Both demand leadership. Given the complexity of globalism, one might think that this is necessary, but also superfluous in the short run.

If such is the case, then I must admit that I like Cain’s simplicity compared to Romney’s complexity. But such simplicity might have the effect of calling out the lie of excessive demands for rational control over our lives, and I’m not sure even I myself wants to admit that.

Are we really willing to risk that? Since we are already on the control freak route, the better course is that we continue rational control. This seems to be the consensus, and I don’t wish to upset that either.

Romney v. Cain. I hope it plays out as a real choice. Of course, there is always the electability question in the general election against an incumbent who even with bad economic and political polling numbers remains the favorite.

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Articles by John Presnall

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