Via the Examiner, Team Mitt will spin this tomorrow as an attack on Perry’s debating skills, not his intelligence, but by showcasing some doofy facial expressions and looooong pauses mid-sentence during answers, it’s clear enough what lesson they want you to learn. It’s a symphony of Gump-ishness. Being a bad debater, while problematic in the general election, doesn’t disqualify you from being the nominee; being an idiot in general does. That’s the lesson. Offhand, I can’t remember ever seeing an ad like this that’s aimed not at showing that an opponent is stupid about a particular issue but that he’s stupid in general. Is there an obvious historical example that I’m missing?

That immigration exchange last night got under Romney’s skin even more deeply than we thought, huh? More on the newly “personal” primary dynamic from Politico:

“He’s extremely thin-skinned,” said chief Perry strategist Dave Carney of Romney after the forum. “He got very rattled, and I think that’s something we hadn’t seen before.”

Stuart Stevens, Carney’s counterpart with the Romney campaign, was equally pointed.

“People are looking for a lot of qualities in the next president, and someone who responds to losing debates with anger is not a quality that they particularly like,” Stevens said, deeming Perry a desperate hothead. “It’s like in a football game, when somebody’s losing and they start shoving.”

None of the previous debates exposed the guts of the Republican contest quite like this because none had been so personally nasty. That Perry and Romney can’t stand one another has long been accepted in GOP circles, but their mutual contempt came into stark relief on the Strip. It overshadowed all else and even managed to overshadow Herman Cain, whose rapid rise in recent polls wasn’t matched by his performance Tuesday night.

Yeah, that’s the other interesting thing about this ad. With Cain leading Romney in various state and national polls, including a new one from Florida out this morning, it’s nonetheless Perry who gets the roundhouse to the jaw from Mitt here. Like Jeff Emanuel says, in a nod to Perry’s impressive fundraising last quarter, “It’s pretty clear who Team Romney still thinks their main opponent is, isn’t it?” Indeed. And for various reasons, Cain’s not an easy target. They’re better off bludgeoning Perry as much as they can and then dealing with Cain if it starts to look like he has a real shot of winning in Iowa and South Carolina. There’s plenty of attack-ad ammo available when the time comes.

Exit question: Did the Romney ad team include soundbites from Erick Erickson here just because they were on point or because they wanted to jab an extra finger in Perry’s eye after he announced his candidacy at a Red State event?

Update: Erickson punches back, noting that his comments in the clip weren’t made last night but after one of the earlier debates. Quote:

Romney had to do this to distract from this being the first debate where he bled. But I think the story is going to be that Romney’s team spliced up and edited the footage to convey the impression that this was all about last night’s debate to push the narrative that Perry flubbed yet again.

After all, Perry’s performance last night was good for him and Romney knows what’s going to happen if Perry rebounds. He cannot afford for that to happen. He knows, like we do, that he has never gotten above 25.0% in the Real Clear Politics polling average since November of 2010.

Update: Bryan Preston e-mails at 10:30 ET to note that the ad has now disappeared from YouTube. True enough, but don’t assume that that means it’s gone for good. Sometimes ads get pulled temporarily because someone has challenged a piece of footage in the spot on copyright grounds. Maybe they’re just re-editing it. If they really have yanked it, though, it’s a total embarrassment. Who greenlit an ad this brutal without clearing it with Mitt and his top advisors first?