Debates a Perry pile-on?

Republicans have grown frustrated that Mitt Romney seems to be sailing towards the pole position in the primaries without having to offer much of a defense about RomneyCare or his record on other issues.  If that happens, don’t blame Rick Perry.  According to a new analysis of the last four debates by Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics, Perry seems to be the only one on the attack against Romney, while everyone else has focused their rhetorical guns on Perry:

Two days after her husband emerged battered from yet another debate, Anita Perry confessed in a speech at South Carolina’s North Greenville University that, “We are being brutalized by our opponents.”

And the data backs her up – even though the most recent New Hampshire debate found Governor Perry receiving fewer blows – and all largely glancing ones at that – compared to his first three debate performances.

Smart Politics content analyzed the four Republican presidential debates since Rick Perry joined the field and found that the Texas governor has absorbed far and away the most attacks from other candidates.

Perry has been singled out for criticism 39 times – about twice the combined total of Herman Cain (9), Jon Huntsman (5), Ron Paul (4), Rick Santorum (1), Michele Bachmann (1), and Newt Gingrich (0) and 10 more than Mitt Romney (29).

Brutalized?  Hardly.  Perry rode into the race at the top of the polls and remained there for the first three of these debates, only sliding downward after the third debate in Orlando.  If Perry expected to get no questions about his record in Texas, then he should have stayed out of the race. Besides, as many commenters wrote last night in Allahpundit’s post, maybe they should try walking in the Palins’ shoes for a while to understand being “brutalized.”

Perry’s inability to coherently answer these attacks have certainly emboldened his opponents, although it’s instructive to see how they fared for doing so.  Apart from Romney, whose numbers haven’t changed much over this period of time, Perry got attacked most often by Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann.  Bachmann hoped to slow Perry down by attacking him in the debates, and she did, but she’s crashed to the bottom in part because her attack on the vaccine mandate backfired so badly.  Neither Santorum nor Huntsman have gained any momentum by attacking Perry.  There were 22 attacks by this group on Perry but only 13 on Romney — and ten of those came from Huntsman.  While Bachmann has positioned herself as the Tea Party banner carrier and ObamaCare warrior, she has only attacked Romney once in four debates.

Romney has been challenged a total of 29 times in four debates, and 22 of those came from Hunstman and Perry.  No one pays that much attention to Huntsman, who clearly isn’t going to provide much of a contrast to Romney anyway, and Perry has come across as incoherent and ineffective in many of these attacks.  Perry has hardly bothered with the rest of the field, with 13 of his 15 attacks going against Romney (the other two were Herman Cain and Rick Santorum), and Romney has been similarly focused, with 14 attacks, 12 on Perry and one each also against Cain and Santorum.

Who have been the most negative and how has it helped them?  Huntsman has gone the most negative with 19 attacks against everyone but Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Santorum.  Santorum has been attacking everyone except Bachmann and Gingrich, coming in second at 18 attacks.  In contrast, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have been the most positive, issuing only 4 attacks each — and that may be why recent polling shows both men moving up the ladder, Gingrich less spectacularly than Cain, at least in New Hampshire:

Romney leads all the candidates on the primary election ballot with 41%. Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain has rocketed into second place with 20%. And Texas Congressman Ron Paul places third with 10%. All other candidates were in single digits. …

Apart from Cain, the candidate to see the most impressive gains is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. After months of being upside down, Gingrich has improved his image rating to even. He is viewed favorable and unfavorably by 45%. Two months ago, Gingrich was viewed unfavorably by a 2-to-1 margin.

Going positive will do that, even if Gingrich has too much baggage to get much farther in the race.  Romney knows this as well, which is why almost all of his attacks came in response to Perry’s ascent in the polls, and why in the last debate Romney acted as though Perry didn’t exist.  Thanks to the efforts of his competitors to pile on Perry, Romney has mostly escaped any serious and/or effective attacks — which may be why conservatives have been so frustrated to see him sailing towards that pole position as the man to beat in January.

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