Last night’s Republican presidential debate did more than just offer voters a chance to gauge seven potential candidates for the 2012 GOP nomination, as The Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol reminds us.
The debate also has significance for candidates and potential candidates who stayed away from the stage:
Rick Perry: Hurt a bit by Michele Bachmann’s strong performance. If, in the next two months, she forcefully opposes in the House whatever deal is reached on the debt ceiling (very likely), and wins the Ames straw poll (quite possible), what’s Perry’s rationale for big-footing her? On the other hand, he’s a successful big state governor who’s also Tea Party friendly—in theory, a potent combination.
Rudy Giuliani: There’s room in the race for a capable tough guy who’s more socially moderate than anyone on stage last night, and one can see Rudy getting some votes in various primaries. It’s hard to see how he ultimately wins the nomination. But Rudy wants to take a shot, and I suspect he’ll be able to thrust himself onto center stage by being ready, willing, and able to take on Romney, which Pawlenty (and the others) notably failed to do last night.
George Pataki: A weaker version of Rudy as a candidate—but he wants to go, too.
Jon Huntsman: What’s his message? If Romney’s acceptable, what’s his rationale?
Paul Ryan: As the repeated mentions of him last night reminded everyone, he’s at the center of gravity of the national political debate. And nothing we saw last night would convince his many admirers that he wouldn’t be better—substantively and politically—at advancing the core Republican position than those on stage last night.
Chris Christie: Like Ryan, he could be an attractive third way if the choice seems to be being reduced to cautious Mitt and zealous Michele.