- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2011


With one word, Texas Gov. Rick Perry summed up his cringe-worthy Wednesday night debate performance and instantly turned the GOP presidential conversation away from businessman Herman Cain and onto his campaign, which has stumbled through repeated debates.

“It’s tough,” said Chad Connelly, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “There is certainly time to fix it, but people do expect their commander in chief to have the answers.”

Mr. Perry tried to turn it into a plus on Thursday, conceding in a series of television interviews that he didn’t mind “saying clearly that I stepped in it last night,” while also suggesting he is “like most Americans” who like to forget some federal agencies.

“The issue wasn’t about whether I can sing off a line of a number of agencies,” Mr. Perry said on NBC’s “Today.” “It truly gets to the core of the matter of we’ve got so much government out there, and people are so tired of government telling them how to do this — what light bulb to buy, what car standards they’re going to have for fuel efficiency, et cetera. Going through that long list of government agencies is really what this campaign is all about. You know, and so I’m human like everyone else.”

Mr. Perry stole the show at the debate at Oakland University with one of the most embarrassing moments of the campaign season. Turning to the guru of government cutting, Rep. Ron Paul, a fellow Texan, Mr. Perry emphatically vowed that when he moved into The White House, three agencies of government would be gone: “Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there — let’s see.”

As he tried to remember, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and some of his other GOP rivals tried to help him. “EPA?” they asked, prompting the moderator to ask him point blank whether could recall the other agency he wanted to put on the chopping block.

Mr. Perry fumbled around with what appeared to be notes in front of him before giving up with a defeated expression. “I can’t,” he said. “Sorry. Oops.”

It didn’t take long before the 53-second clip made its way to YouTube, becoming fodder for the political pundits, late-night comics and morning talk shows.

Mr. Perry even went onto one of those late-night shows in Thursday’s tour, appearing on CBS’ “The Late Show with David Letterman” to read Thursday’s “Top Ten List” — “Rick Perry Excuses” for his debate flub.

“No. 6. Hey, listen,” Mr. Perry said, with a come-hither twinkle in his eye. “You try concentrating with Mitt Romney smiling at you. That is one handsome dude.”

Speaking to CBS News earlier in the day, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said he cringed at Mr. Perry’s stumble, adding that it will hurt the Texas governor.

“Normally, it would not be a problem, but obviously he had some problems in previous debates,” the state’s popular junior senator said, adding that he wasn’t yet “pronouncing the end of his campaign at this point.”

Mr. Connelly spoke similarly, saying an opening still exists for Mr. Perry in the Palmetto State, thanks to his hefty fundraising. He also cited the fact that the two national front-runners — Mr. Cain and Mr. Romney — have not spent a ton of time here, a point Mr. Connelly noted could also help other candidates.

The political world now turns its attention to Wofford College here, where Mr. Perry will brave the stage again Saturday, hoping to regain his footing before he becomes an afterthought, this time in a debate focused on foreign policy.

Still, the gaffe also made its way Thursday into the daily White House press briefing when Jay Carney, the president’s spokesman, was asked for thoughts on Mr. Perry’s performance.

“From him or from me?” asked Mr. Carney, referring to the president and sparking some laughter from reporters. “When I spoke with him this morning, he had not seen any of the debate.”

Mr. Perry sprinted to the front of the pack when he entered the race in August and racked up wads of campaign cash in the ensuing months. But his star has fizzled in debate performances, where he has appeared slow on his feet, leaving some Republicans to wonder privately whether he is ready for prime time.

His problems started to snowball after Mr. Romney generally was thought to get the better of the exchanges over their positions on Social Security. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania also ripped him for requiring young schoolgirls to be vaccinated for the human papillomavirus, which is known to cause cervical cancer.

But his poll numbers really started to plummet when he described people who oppose his decision to grant in-state tuition rates to some children of illegal immigrants as heartless.

“His numbers have been kind of sinking since then, and this might be the finishing touch on a sinking campaign,” said Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party. “Sadly, for him.”

While she said she felt bad for Mr. Perry, Mrs. Belsom also said that it was a “jaw-dropping moment” that fed into lingering concerns from his previous debate performances.

“I really think if Perry had done really well in the other debates, and this was kind of a one-time mess-up I don’t know if it would have been as big of a deal,” she said. “I kind of think it almost adds to some of his other gaffes and problems.”



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