WASHINGTON – It was a brawl. A beautifully ugly Republican battle, with Michele Bachmann taking full advantage of the opening to pummel Rick Perry, though she was hardly the only one.

The Tea Party audience loved Rick Perry. …right up until he made the case for “illegal immigrant” children to get in-state tuition.

“I didn’t mind the vaccine, social security is a ponzi scheme, but the illegal immigration issue is killing Perry.” – Ann Coulter

The boos then started rolling in, which Romney utilized in a strong but not stand-out debate performance. But that wasn’t the worst of it for Perry.

Social Security is the issue that moves Democrats and progressives looking to the general election, with Romney and Perry going at it on it (video), but in a Tea Party nomination process on the way to securing the nomination, it’s crony capitalism that can kill you.

Bachmann’s attack on Perry drew praise from Sarah Palin, a line she used recently in Iowa to take on Republicans as she did in her rise in Alaska:

“That’s good… to call one another out on that,” Palin noted, as was it good to “fight crony capitalism.” “You have to go up against the big guns and they will trying to destroy you,” Palin argued, “I have the bumps and the bruises to prove it.” She predicted that Rep. Bachmann was “going to get crucified by some in the party who say ‘don’t violate Reagan’s 11th Commandment,’” one Palin made clear she had no intention of following herself, as she praised Rep. Bachmann for ignoring it.

Rick Perry’s been in Texas politics a long time and pay to play just happens to be the issue getting a lot of attention right now, with questions rising about whether it’s at the heart of Perry’s power.

When Bachmann got her chance she pounced and didn’t let go. It wasn’t just about the forced HPV vaccination of pre-teen girls, an issue of freedom and liberty, also close to the Tea Party’s heart, but the pay to play process that fueled it. Transcript (and the video above) via Huffington Post:

I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order, there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can’t deny that,” Bachmann said, referring to Merck.

“What I’m saying is that it’s wrong for a drug company — because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?”

Perry clarified that he received a $5,000 donation from Merck. “I raised about $30 million,” he said. “And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

“Well, I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice,” replied Bachmann. “That’s what I’m offended for.”

Bachmann’s team went further, sending out a press release on Perry’s pay to play:

Texas Governor Rick Perry has admitted he was mistaken to issue his 2007 executive order mandating the Gardasil vaccine against a sexually-transmitted disease for 11-year-old girls. However, it remains unclear how much his ties to Merck, Gardasil’s maker, influenced this decision. Key advisors to Perry worked for Merck as lobbyists before and after he issued this executive order and Merck donated $6,000 to Perry in 2007. The drug maker stood to make tens of millions off Perry’s order until the legislature overturned it. ….

Lobbyist Mike Toomey served as Perry’s chief of staff for two years, then went on to lobby for gambling interests and the manufacturer of the HPV vaccine. …

Internal Perry office emails show frequent contact and coordination with Merck lobbyists, such as Mike Toomey and Lara Keel, in the weeks leading up to Perry’s decision on the executive order.

It had to delight the Romney campaign.

This is the way in on Perry, with Bachmann finding the vein. Romney needs to mine it, because although he was steady tonight, Perry’s clout with primary Tea Party voters is undeniable, as is Perry’s presence, with Tea Party voters besotted with the Governor.

As for the others, Santorum and Newt found their fraternal coupling, with Gingrich giving him a knowing wink at one point when Santorum went after Ron Paul over 9/11.

Ron Paul got booed when suggesting having the U.S. military stationed across the globe causes us trouble. And when he said sick people were on their own to die if they didn’t have or want health care, the audience cheered “Yeah!” for death (video).

Herman Cain had the quip of the night, when Blitzer asked what each candidate would bring to the White House as president: “I would bring a sense of humor to the White House, because America is too uptight.”

Jon Huntsman had a rough night, at one point calling out Perry for “treason” for saying the border could not be secured with a fence. It not only fell flat, but sounded like a line to make him sound more Tea Party-esque, which made him sound fake, because he’s not that guy.

CNN did a good job, with Wolf Blitzer distinguishing himself.

It was another rousing evening for Republicans, no doubt fueling enthusiasm, but who continue to sound crazier than a person wondering the street trying to get paid for his ramblings.

That’s why steady as he goes Mitt Romney has no choice but to just keep on sounding and looking like the grown up amidst the rabble, hoping Michele Bachmann will keep serving up Perry plums, because he can’t attack Perry on crony capitalism because he’s the poster man for it.

Rick Perry’s now got entry wounds even if the Tea Party can’t see them and doesn’t care. Social Security in the general election, but “illegal immigration” tuition is one for the primaries, with the pay to play HPV Merck example certainly not the only quid pro quo in his closet.

But you can bet Team Obama is doing opposition research while hoping Perry ends up being the one.

The Tea Party is giddy that they’ve found their man.

Meanwhile, the Republican establishment is drinking Highland Park hoping it’s all a bad dream.

Taylor Marsh is a Washington based political analyst, writer and commentator on national politics, foreign policy, and women in power. A veteran national politics writer, Taylor’s been writing on the web since 1996. She has reported from the White House, been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her blog.

TAYLOR MARSH, Guest Voice Columnist
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Copyright 2011 The Moderate Voice
  • Allen

    Wrong assesment.

    Cain was the only adult sounding of the bunch.

    I get the feeling he was asked the wrong questions intentionally.

  • RP

    “but in a Tea Party nomination process on the way to securing the nomination, it’s crony capitalism that can kill you.” (Third Para.)

    Here in lies the problems facing the Republican’s road to the white house. When did it become a “tea Party nomination process and what happened to the soccer mom political group that voted for Reagan?

    It is much easier for a extreme left wing liberal to attract the moderates that are voting to vote for them than it is for a moderate to vote for a right wing conservative that is considered extreme in their views. In many cases, the independent moderates will stay home, while the other liberals and Tea Party voters will go to the polls, with Obama winning again.

  • All I can say is that I heard about Perry’s Merck incident and immigration views from Tea Party groups, long before they hit the mainsteam news cycle.

    So there has been some very real undercurrent against him among the real tea party (as opposed to the assumed tea party).

  • JSpencer

    “It is much easier for a extreme left wing liberal to attract the moderates that are voting to vote for them than it is for a moderate to vote for a right wing conservative that is considered extreme in their views.” ~ RP

    I would take issue with that statement on the simple basis that “extreme left wing liberals” exist more in mythology than in reality, although there are still a few around (Bernie Sanders, etc.). Moderates are attracted to moderates though, I’ll give you that, and since democrats are considerably more moderate than todays brand of republicans, well…

  • casualobserver

    Of course, since both Perry and Romney beat Obama in the last head to head, simple evidential math indicates the Tea Party has no such hard allegiance.

    Oh wait, I know what it is, when Romney is put against Obama, the Tea Party stays home, but it is the Independents and disaffected Democrats that push Romney over the top. Yeah, now I’m thinking with all 12 cyclinders like you guys are.

  • Jim Satterfield

    Realistically no one beats Obama right now because there has been no campaign. There are Republican debates and that’s it. Everything else has all of the accuracy of a crystal ball.

  • Allen

    Prof-

    -[(as opposed to the assumed tea party)]-

    That “assumed” tea party be where???

  • @Allen
    The strawman tea party, as in “The Tea Party is giddy that they’ve found their man.”

    Back in the real tea party, there’s a distinct lack of “giddiness” over Perry.

  • There is no more difference between the Tea Party and the “real tea party” than there is Republicans and “real Republicans” or Dems and “real Democrats,” progressives versus “real progressives. Translation: there is no borg mind monolith in any of these groups, with many factions.

    So, though it is not a “straw man,” using Tea Party to convey a monolith is incorrect, so point taken.

    On the other side, political purity tests are ridiculous, as in “real –fill in the blank with your favorite party–“, not to mention meaningless in the end.

    I was at Beck’s rally a year ago, have been barraged by enough “real” Tea Party individuals, though I find “real tea party” equally misleading for the reasons above.

    There are plenty of Perry tea party supporters, real & other, though Ron Paul’s supporters have taken issue with me on that, as have Sarah Palin’s fans. I also understand that there is fake tea party astroturfing going on for Perry.

    There was always worry that Perry wouldn’t be able to take the national scrutiny. Texans were certainly aware of his pay to play problems, but nationally, his debut has been rough, which people like myself expected and wrote wasn’t going to be easy.

  • Allen

    Prof-

    Yes. Perry could drop his skivies and crap on the floor and the Tea Baggers would probably just cheer their hero on, crazy as they are.

  • JSpencer

    “There was always worry that Perry wouldn’t be able to take the national scrutiny.” – TM

    If that turns out to be the case I’d take it as an encouraging sign. He reminds me far too much of W.

  • ShannonLeee

    Head to Head polling won’t matter until there is a Rep candidate and Obama has spent some time on the campaign trail.

    Obama is a monster on the campaign trail and Americans are very fickle. One good speech and they’ll all jump back on the bandwagon, especially if Perry gets the nomination.