Four takeaways from the GOP debate in Las Vegas

Rick Perry came out swinging in this debate, notes DCDecoder. Herman Cain's 999 plan took some hits, and Mitt Romney had some red-faced moments.

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (left) takes on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during a Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas.

Didn’t catch last night’s GOP debate in Las Vegas? We’ve got you covered. After our liveblogging and a read through this morning’s papers (the best of which are linked to below), here’s your day-after reader for CNN’s “Western Debate.”

1. Rick Perry - don’t call it a comeback.

Whether it was more sleep, more red bull or more cowbell (just kidding), this was a far different Rick Perry than we’ve seen in the previous debates. He had a pre-canned attack line on Mitt Romney over some 2007-vintage campaign dirt about illegal immigrants cutting his lawn, he was ready to take on Herman Cain’s “999 Plan” and while he sometimes lost his train of thought, he got his awkward three second pauses down to one second pauses.

And Rick isn’t stopping there. He’s flying through Washington, D.C. this week to meet with politicos and lobbyists and solicit their ideas on his jobs plan and foreign policy. And, as Decoder wrote in our wrapup last night, this next month or so until the next debate swaps Perry’s weakest tool (his debate persona) for his strongest suits (retail politics and bombing the airwaves with his massive campaign warchest.)

Could it be time for Rick to start his roll?

2. Herman Cain is apparently incapable of answering any question about foreign policy without fumbling. Hard.

Cain got a shellacking at the outset over his “999 Plan.” Perhaps you could have seen that coming. But by far his worst debate moment was after the debate, when he said he “misspoke” on something he said only three hours before - that he would be willing to negotiate with a terrorist group holding an American soldier, potentially exchanging an American for many or all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

This is after some less-than-inspiring remarks on Meet the Press last Sunday, among other foreign policy mishaps.

3. The longer Rick Santorum sticks around, the more nervous Romney, Perry and to some extent Cain, are going to be.

Rick Santorum is re-defining what it means to be playing with house money. He got after Cain right off the bat about “999” not doing anything to help the American family, then he piled on Romney on healthcare:

The final point I would make to Governor Romney, you just don’t have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare. You are — you are — your plan was the basis for Obamacare. Your consultants helped Obama craft Obamacare. And to say that you’re going to repeal it, you just — you have no track record on that that — that we can trust you that you’re going to do that.

If there’s a good attack line unearthed by the media, you can bet Santorum is going to take it. Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich criticize the frontrunners; Santorum scorches ‘em.

4. Mitt Romney can have pretty thin skin.

We’ll let Nate Silver of the New York Times’ fivethirtyeight blog spell this out:

"Mr. Romney’s worst moment came when Rick Perry challenged him in a somewhat non-sequitur attack where he accused Mr. Romney of having employed illegal immigrants at his home. The problem was not with the substance of Mr. Romney’s response but with his demeanor. Demonstrative to the point of appearing angry and somewhat red-faced under the stage lights, Mr. Romney grabbed Mr. Perry on the shoulder and seemed on the verge of losing his temper.

Controlled anger can sometimes work in a debate — Ronald Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone” exchange with a reporter in New Hampshire perhaps being the best example of this. But it is a high-risk, high-reward strategy, something that Mr. Romney does not need, and Mr. Romney was responding to a fellow Republican rather than to a moderator."

We noted this in the prior debate when Romney admonished Rick Santorum (“I’m still speaking. I’m still speaking!”) in a way that left Decoder feeling like Romney’s next move was to tell Santorum to go to his room and think about what he’d done.

What does this mean, in practical terms? Perhaps nothing. But was by far Romney’s least “presidential” moment of the campaign so far. Voters might not, to borrow from The Hulk, like Mitt when he’s angry.

And, as always, the best reads from around the web.

POLITICO’s Roger Simon writes: "Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. And somewhere folks are laughing, and somewhere children shout, but there is no joy in Vegas - - the GOP has struck out. Again."

The Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldmann writes that "red-faced" Romney was "taken down a few notches" and compared the Perry-Romney duel to the post-game dust-up between the NFL coaches of the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Slate’s John Dickerson was equally unimpressed, particularly by Herman Cain’s answers to criticism of his 999 Plan: “But this is like turning around Godfather’s Pizza by promising the pies will make themselves…Sure, Cain can continue to push his plan. But if he can’t do a better job explaining and selling it, he might as well just give in to the notion of a fantasy campaign and promise he’ll ride a unicorn in his inaugural parade.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza thinks there were two winners - Mitt Romney and “Rick Perry’s aggression.” And, sadly, everybody else…

Like your facts checked and served in digestible format? Read The Washington Post’s Fact Checker breakdown of statements from last night’s debate.

Did he really say that? Read CNN’s transcript of the whole event here.

Like your politics unscrambled - with a side order of humor? Check out

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