"It’s like badminton," Rick Perry said.
And it was, as the two frontrunners slashed at each other’s credibility and consistency. Romney charged Perry with flip-flopping on social security.
"I don’t know – there’s a Rick Perry out there that’s saying that it – almost to quote – it says that the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business, that it’s unconstitutional, and it should be returned to the states. So you’d better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that.”
Perry countered that Romney flip-flopped on healthcare.
"He’s for ‘Obamacare’ and how he’s against it. I mean, we’ll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to tonight.”
Romney rattled Perry on the Texas law that gives illegal immigrants there a tuition break at state universities.
"You know how much that is? It’s $22,000 a year. Four years of college, you’re almost a $100,000 discount, if you’re an illegal alien, to go to University of Texas.”
Perry tried to defend himself, with an answer that made him sound like a liberal.
"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason that they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
But heart wasn’t what the Republicans were looking for.
"And why should they be given preferential treatment as an illegal in this country? That’s what we’re saying,” Rick Santorum said.
While all the Republicans criticized the president, the best line came from one who admitted he didn’t write it himself.
“My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration,” said Gary Johnson.
This was Romney’s best debate, and Perry’s worst.
If I’m right, then the polls will tighten, but the shape of the Republican race will stay the same. It’s Perry and Romney (or Romney and Perry, if you prefer) and, before too long, my guess is one of them will be debating President Obama.
(Copyright (c) 2011 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)