In much the same manner that the networks will race each other to be the first to declare a winner even when only a small percentage of the vote tallied, let me be first to declare Mitt Romney the winner of the Republican primaries.
The latest polls (before last night's debate) showed Perry leading Romney by a significant margin. But last night Romney demonstrated why he's going to win, and it was all about body language.
Perry seemed unsure of himself, stumbled in a few of his replies, and garbled a few words out of what sounded like nervousness. Romney, on the other hand, came across generally more confident and aggressive. It all boils down to, who do you want on your side in a (legislative) bar fight. And, frankly, whom you would rather look at.
The fact that the two men stood next to each other favored Romney. Had they been at opposite ends of the podium, the audience would have had the vague impression of two tall handsome men flanking all the less noteworthy candidates. But since the camera could catch both men in the same shot, it was apparent that Romney was a little taller, a little more solid, and a little better-looking.
It also looked as if, had the two gotten into a fistfight, Romney would have prevailed. As silly as it sounds to even bring that up, that factor is deeply ingrained into our psyches from millions of years of that outcome actually mattering.
We make decisions instinctively; we use our logical faculties afterward only to rationalize our instincts. When all is said and done, thinking is but an afterthought. (It's no coincidence that "rational" and "rationalize," though they have almost opposite meanings, come from the same root.)
Although this is far less important to the electorate than the press, Romney also seemed more on top of the facts than Perry did last night. But that's secondary.
A business school professor of mine once pointed out to our class that in 21 of the previous 22 Presidential elections, the taller man won. I checked that out, and it turned out that it was actually 20 out of 22. But the general rule certainly held, and it looks as if it will hold true for this primary season as well.
The other candidates have at this point seemingly been relegated to supporting roles.
Gingrich came across as calm and intelligent as usual. He may be a sociopath, but that's why he never has a deer-in-the-headlights moment, and why he doesn't hesitate to excoriate the moderators if he feels their questions are inappropriate. The electorate could probably find it in its heart to forgive his character if only he were taller and leaner. But Gingrich looks like a pudgy little boy compared to the two tall leading man-types he's up against. The public wants the BMOC who is a star forward, not the towel boy.
Michelle Bachmann sent pulses racing at the outset of the campaign: she seemed to be a Sarah Palin who actually understood the issues. But then, as it turned out, she really didn't. And as sexy as she is, she also gives off craziness vibes (and not just on the cover of Newsweek). Palin looks like a fun girl who likes to party; Bachmann looks like her harder-edged sister who decided to become a high-priced call girl. Here's my sophisticated analysis: I wouldn't mind doing Palin, but somehow I just wouldn't want to do Bachmann.
Ron Paul appeals to purists, but he's a little too pure to be electable. It's been many decades since he was a track star, and the electorate rarely goes for wizened. He comes across more like a professor at Hogwart's than the dynamic salesman he needs to be.
Gary Johnson had the best line of the night: "My next door neighbor's dogs have produced more shovel ready jobs than Barack Obama has." But Johnson quickly proved himself a one note player: how many different ways can you say you want a balanced budget?
Jon Huntsman came across well, but he was never conservative enough to excite the primary voters. And he's ever-so-slightly milquetoasty, like Tim Pawlenty. Huntsman already has the odor of failure about him, and the electorate, like the sharks in the media, can smell that from miles away.
Rick Santorum is a true -- and somewhat rigid -- conservative, the type who ought to do well in the primaries, but he never caught fire either. When they gave him that question from the muscular gay Iraq vet about gays in the military, Santorum actually came across unpatriotic stumblingly replying that he would reinstitute Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Rick Perry has never lost an election, and like an unbeaten boxer, has grown somewhat overconfident. His Texas roots (unlike Bush's) are genuine. He grew up in a small Texas town, joined the military (not the National Guard), and went to Texas A&M (not Yale). But his Texas colloquialisms don't necessarily translate well on the national stage. When he said, in reference to the Federal Reserve printing so much money, that they would treat Bernanke "pretty ugly" back in Texas," the New York media heard, "We'd string the Jew up."
That is generally not considered the best way to win them over.
But Perry's biggest Achilles heel, other than being up against a taller, slicker, better-looking candidate, is immigration reform. As governor he passed a law granting college benefits to illegal immigrants in Texas that even Americans don't get. When the voters get wind of that, they're going to treat Perry pretty ugly.
(As Romney said in his post-debate interview on Fox last night, had Perry realized he'd be running for President, he'd have thought twice before passing that law.)
So far the media has gone fairly easy on Perry. They are undoubtedly hoping that he wins the nomination, since he represents less of a threat to Obama than Romney does.
But the early physical indications are that Romney is going to win.