As his fellow candidates ganged up on him in the most recent GOP primary debate last week, Rick Perry mused at one point that he felt "like the piñata here." We hope his bruises have healed by now, because in tonight's debate (8 p.m. EST), which is being co-sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express, Perry should expect to be beaten mercilessly once again.
The "sticks" wielded by Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and the other also-rans will be Perry's own words. In last week's debate, Perry received lots of attention for referring to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme and a "monstrous lie." Perry's point was that Social Security, in its current form, won't be solvent for many people who are now paying into it.
He's right. Social Security will need to be reformed if it's going to dole out benefits to future generations, and nobody running for president (including Barack Obama) believes that it can simply be left alone. But labeling it a Ponzi scheme was probably a little too much Texas straight-talk for Perry's own good. It's a sound bite that can be all too easily taken out of context and used against him: Ponzi schemes are bad. Rick Perry thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Ergo, Rick Perry must think Social Security is bad. It might not be such an effective line of attack, except that it happens to be supported by Perry's past statements. In his 2010 book Fed Up!, Perry implied that Social Security was unconstitutional and suggested handing over control of it to the states.
For a front-runner with few glaring vulnerabilities, Perry's stance on Social Security has become a big fat bull's-eye. Bachmann, whose campaign has tanked in the weeks following Perry's entrance into the race, reportedly plans on hammering Perry over Social Security tonight. (She probably won't mention that in February of 2010, she referred to it as "a tremendous fraud.") Romney will also certainly use tonight's debate — which takes place in Florida, land of the elderly — to juxtapose his own reverence for Social Security with Perry's contempt for the program.
Together, Bachmann and Romney will whack away at Piñata Perry's soft underbelly, hoping to bust it open. The moderators will do all they can to foster this entertaining intra-party melee, leading Newt Gingrich to complain, as he always does. Should be a fun night.