There are three points I'd like to make about last night's Republican Debate. First, as the candidates passed on the feisty and combative mood of previous match-ups, it seems they are happier to bide their time and counting on their rivals to implode. Second, even as they coalesce around the economy as the central theme of the campaign, none of them have an answer that will inspire American voters. And third…well, I forget the third…maybe it has something to do with the EPA.
Rick Perry jokes aside, the GOP debate didn't contribute much to the race. If the allegations against Herman Cain find traction, his accusers will do the work of taking him down that his rivals are being too tactful to do. If Perry's flub confirm for his potential supporters their fear of his immaturity as a candidate, he'll have dug his own grave. Mitt Romney's positives and negatives are known to the electorate - and GOP primary voters have made clear the cons outweigh the pros as they continually seek Anybody But Romney. And the rest of them - especially Gingrich, Santorum and Bachmann -- hopes they can stay in long enough to take a surprise star turn at the Iowa Caucus and change the race's momentum.
All of which suggests that the next few debates will feel as lethargic and unsurprising as a post-Thanksgiving food coma.
But that sluggishness isn't just the pace of the race; it characterizes the ideas of the candidates. The candidates know that the American economy is Obama's weakest area. Frustratingly for the Republicans - and for the American people - while they know the economy is the problem, they just don't know a solution.
All their talk is cuts: Budget cuts, spending cuts, agency cuts, tax cuts. And none of them talk investment. From last year's State of the Union, when the President used "investment" to talk about taxes, it's become a dangerous word for anyone seeking the Tea Party vote. But when you're a candidate who can't talk about investing in America, you're caught in a rhetorical strait jacket.
The energy of the 99% has pushed public discourse, with polls showing Americans concerned about wealth disparity and Wall Street's seeming unaccountability, and with Occupy Wall Street scoring higher approval ratings than the Tea Party.
Tuesday's elections showed that the right-wing had done wrong after they seized statehouses in the 2010 mid-terms.
Yet, none of the Republicans can talk to those shifting realities in any compelling way. Not 1% Romney. Not 9-9-9 Cain. And not that 3rd guy…I forget his name…maybe the EPA?
So far, the most telling question in the GOP primary has been whether any of them would accept a budget compromise with $1 of new revenue for every $10 of cuts. The Republicans, in refusing to be open to such a deal, showed they aren't really open to dealing… or governing.
When the Super Committee releases its proposals in the weeks ahead, it will give these presidential hopefuls a chance to revisit that question: where and when is it appropriate to increase revenue?
If they stick by their guns and refuse any proposal to ask the richest Americans to pay their fair share, dismiss the notion of investment, insist that the middle class needs to balance the country's budget, their chances in the general will be as lethargic as their primary. They'll wait for their rival to do himself in, but have nothing to say for themselves.
And in that case, it won't just be Rick Perry who has a senior moment. The American people will forget the Republicans…one candidate at a time.
Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."