By Dick Morris on November 10, 2011

Last night’s GOP debate provided defining moments, not only for Rick Perry, but also for Romney, Cain, Gingrich and Bachmann.

Perry’s was, of course, all too obvious. You could see the stage fright grip him as he failed momentarily to recall that he had sentenced the Energy Department to termination. You could watch his sense of panic rising and taking over his consciousness. It explained all his other bad debate performances. The man has “red light syndrome”, a widely known disorder for studio musicians who cannot perform when the red light to record is illuminated. They freeze as Perry froze.

But his moment also showed the vacuity of the sound bites he does manage to recall. It demonstrated how he has a series of memorized lines which he recycles and repeats without much thought, originality, or, apparently, memory of their significance. His moment of an empty mind revealed that he is, indeed, an empty suit.

Romney, too, had his defining moment when he was asked to choose between profits and jobs. At last he was on home turf. He hit it out of the ballpark. “What are profits?” he asked. “Where do they go?” He answered his own question saying that many liberals say they go to corporate executive salaries and bonuses. But they don’t, he explained. “Profits are what is left after they have been paid. Profits are what you reinvest in your business to make it grow and expand and create new jobs. You need profits to generate jobs.” Romney’s economic primer showed how deeply he has imbued himself with the free market gospel. Perhaps he flip flops on strange ground, but on economics, he’s rock solid. That’s great to know! I hope the Occupy Wall Street crowd was watching.

Cain’s moment came when he was asked about the bridge in San Francisco that is going to be built by the Chinese. Over the cynicism of the media and the laughter of his colleagues (Romney doubled up laughing) he sheepishly repeated his 9-9-9 formulation and did a great job of explaining its relevance to the question. In coaching candidates, it’s a moment you hope for. Answer the question and show how it relates to your basic campaign theme. In that answer, Cain made everyone realize the centrality of his reforms and how fundamental they are to any question relating to jobs and economy.

Newt’s defining moment offered an insight into his candidacy and his mind. He was asked to tell us, in thirty seconds, what he would do to replace Obamacare. “Thirty seconds?” he asked, incredulously. “Thirty seconds to answer health care.” He portentously noted that he had spent years studying the subject. In the meantime, his thirty seconds were up. Doggedly, the reporter persisted and granted him “all the time you wish” to answer. His initial response was to repeat his incredulity at being asked to describe health care in a sound bite. “No, take all the time you want,” she repeated. Finally it dawned on Newt that he had to give a real answer. Sarcasm wouldn’t cut it. Obviously not having marshaled his thoughts, he repeated the same stuff the others had said about malpractice reform and health savings accounts – good answers, but scarcely original.

Then, Newt appeared in all his intellectual glory. Gone was the surly sarcasm, the negative sneer, and the pap answer. His brain went to work and he launched into the most dazzlingly brilliant answer! He referenced the proliferation of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases and of autism. He said that basic research into brain functions could save us billions in health care treatments. His metaphor? Instead of buying iron lung machines, invent the Salk Vaccine. Why don’t all the candidates think in such global and bold terms? Because none of them is Newt! And why didn’t Newt tell us this in the first place without wasting the time on sarcasm, procedure, imputation of media idiocy, and pique? Because he is Newt. In the same moment, his biggest asset and biggest impediment were side by side.

Michele’s defining moment was when she talked about the interest we pay China. She raised a point that was so fundamental and important that only a brilliant tax lawyer would focus on it – that the real problem with our massive borrowing from China is the huge subsidy we are giving our potential adversary. China only spends about a quarter of what we do on defense. But add to it the interest we pay to China and you have a totally different equation. “We paid for their aircraft carrier,” she explained. So why isn’t she doing better in the polls? Not because of her flaws, but because this is one tough field of able, qualified, articulate candidates.

And then there’s Rick.

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