Monday night's Republican debate was nothing short of a Texas Cheerleader Massacre. Rick Perry became the latest casualty in yet another None-of-the-Above GOP primary fight.
Just as in 2008, voters are so forlorn with the uninspiring field that the biggest plurality at any given moment is usually behind the None-of-the-Above candidate. Which is to say, the candidate who is not yet in the race but hovering around the edges like some hopeful angel who might rescue us.
First came Michele Bachmann, who was everybody's heartthrob. She hovered on the outside, teasing, making us swoon.
After joining the race, she shot to the top of the heap, then almost instantly began to fade and GOP voters turned to a swaggering governor of a big state who at that moment was not running. Then Mr. Perry made a big splash getting into the race.
And Monday night his candidacy met reality.
Not in recent times has a debate turned into a more vicious pile-up against one candidate. Yet it was hard to feel sorry for him.
Mitt Romney skewered him not only for giving illegal immigrants in his state a path to citizenship but also in-state college tuition rates.
"This is a state's rights issue," Mr. Perry tried lamely. Well, there is another term for it among GOP voters. It's called "amnesty" and it isn't terribly popular.
Then there was the continued attack from fellow Texan Ron Paul, who has questioned everything from Mr. Perry's conservative credentials to his very manhood. Mr. Paul eviscerated Mr. Perry's tax record before stopping short to say he didn't want "to offend the governor" any more for fear "he might raise my taxes." Brutal.
In a television ad directly attacking Mr. Perry, Mr. Paul reminds viewers that Mr. Perry used to be a Democrat and was once Al Gore's state chairman.
Or, as Mr. Paul refers to him TWICE in the spot, Mr. Gore's "Texas Cheerleader." It is a clear reference to Mr. Perry's strange career as a cheerleader at Texas A&M.
The mainstream media usually gets apoplectic about such innuendos in political ads — unless, of course, it is directed at a Republican running as a conservative.
During Monday night's debate in which CNN shamelessly lampooned the tea party, the network simply piled on by training the camera for long stretches on Mr. Perry while he was devoured alive by everybody on stage. The empty, disemboweled look on his face did him no favors.
The harshest, most unrelenting attacks were about Mr. Perry's decision to force young girls to get vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.
"I'm always going to err on the side of life," he said, establishing a terrifying new standard for government intrusion into the most private areas of our private lives. And at the same time cynically twisting one of the most sacred arguments in the conservative firmament: choosing "life" over abortion.
Mrs. Bachmann went in for the kill to point out that the lobbyist for the drug company benefiting the most from the vaccination requirement was none other than Mr. Perry's former chief of staff.
Mr. Perry ignored that Texas-sized conflict and instead chose to focus on a paltry campaign contribution he had taken from the drug company.
"If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000 ... " he said, struggling to find the biggest, baddest consequence he could muster before limping off with, "I'm offended!"
Luckily for him, he didn't fan himself or faint as he said it. It was a sad moment for the wannabe cowboy, but probably a necessary one.
Now it's back to the next None-of-the-Above candidate. Anyone seen Sarah Palin? Has Chris Christie found a treadmill that can support him yet?
• Charles Hurt's column appears Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.