Had Texas Governor Rick Perry performed better in the two most recent GOP presidential candidates’ debates, he’d be well on his way to the 2012 nomination. Yesterday, tellingly, he was in Virginia at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty College shoring up his support among evangelical Republicans by talking about his faith and his purpose in life.
If he’d shined in the debates, he would have been talking about jobs. He certainly wouldn’t have been wasting valuable time stroking the base. But there he was, doing exactly that.
So, what happened? What accounts for Perry’s deflating debate performances?
Part of it, as Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka suggests, might be medical or medically-related. Perry had back surgery this summer and the one thing that doctors always tell you about surgery is that it leaves you easily fatigued for months after the operation. Perry noticeably flagged in both debates as they moved past the first half hour. The second debate was two hours long. Back surgery in all likelihood had something to do with his apparent weariness and inarticulate answers.
But more alarming was Perry’s evident lack of command of the subject matter. As John Podhoretz wrote at Commentary after the CNN/Tea Party debate, Perry had trouble with some fairly straightforward policy questions. He seemed not only out of his depth, he seemed unprepared. Here’s Podhoretz:
“The main problem here, though, is that he seems to think he can wing these debates by referring to what he did in Texas here and what he did in Texas there. That is insufficient not just when it comes to giving voters a chance to judge him by the policy choices he might make; it’s insufficient because it suggests he thinks he can get away without getting specific and demonstrating a command of national and international issues.”
The modern Republican Party does not want to nominate Mitt Romney. As we’ve said many times on this site, he’s of the wrong religion, the wrong region and he’s the author of Romneycare. GOP primary voters and caucus attenders will only nominate him after they’ve exhausted every other available (and viable) option.
Perry need only meet two tests to win the nomination. Test #1 is that he has the knowledge and experience to serve effectively as president. Test #2 is that he has an even (or better than even) chance of defeating President Obama next November. All the other pieces of the puzzle are there. He has a very powerful base. He has the money. He has (enough) established political support.
Perry has so far failed Test #1. He needs to pass it, again and again, in debate after debate, to win. If he continues to fall short in these debates, then he won’t be the nominee. He’ll be in the discard pile with all the others.
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