Gov. Rick Perry has never been the most well-spoken debater, and you can only fault a candidate so much for this small part of the larger picture. Still, at a CNBC Michigan Republican debate last week Perry did not just lose his train of thought, he lost his chance to become the GOP presidential nominee.

Perry described the three agencies he would eliminate and named two of them before falling into the “uuuhhhh” that curses so many public speakers. However, it gets worse. Mitt Romney asked if Perry wanted to eliminate the EPA as the third. Perry agreed, but a moderator (who knew what three agencies Perry had talked about eliminating) asked if that was really the department he would eliminate. Perry was caught. He backtracked, then gave up without an answer. The senior moment lasted only 50 seconds or so, but it was enough to crush his credibility. Eventually he realized that the Department of Energy was the elusive agency on the tip of his tongue.

Perry has performed poorly in each debate he has taken part in, and this fact, aside from proving why he actually refused to debate Bill White last year, is going to allow other candidates to surpass him. Plenty of politicians make major mistakes and lose their place. The trick is not to get caught red-handed in front of a camera when it occurs.

Romney was the opposite of Perry during the Michigan debate. Not only did he have the home field advantage (Romney is from Detroit), he never deviated his criticisms and attacks at the other GOP candidates and instead focused on the Obama administration. Romney said he rejected a bailout for US banks with exposure to European debt and that while he didn’t want a flat tax, he’d push for a fatter tax code. It was simple talk — but still more eloquent than Perry could pull off.

Debates are entertaining, but admittedly they don’t determine anything important. Debates do not even determine a winner. These events are arbitrated by moderators and comprised of politicians slinging mud at each other. There are no winners in a debate; only people who hold up their composure, speak well and appear to be in control. Perry could not accomplish this.

Why does this end his chance of even getting the Republican nomination? After all, people are fickle, and they will eventually forget this as soon as someone else does something to shift attention. The simple answer is fundraising. “Perry’s campaign is over. Time for him to go home and refocus on being governor of Texas. Really unfortunate. His policies are a solid roadmap for the economy. But, clearly he can’t articulate them in a coherent way,” one of Perry’s fund raisers said after the debate.

Without money and people willing to consolidate that money, Perry’s campaign does not look like a safe bet, and his supporters will go bet on a different racehorse. Yet Perry refuses to end his campaign. He told reporters in each interview following the flop that everyone makes mistakes and that he is no different.

Perry arrived to the South Carolina debate Saturday with every intention to keep going — you have to give him points for trying.

David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected].


  • So the premise of this piece is that there is sound rational to conclude how voters will vote a debate performance. Then should there even be a vote? Should we just let David Hayden pick the candidate? Get a real job, Dave.

  • It would be interesting to see an overview of the 20th century history of presidential debates with an emphasis of who sponsors them and why, rather than just a dull (typical) recitation of who made the greatest faux pas during them. Candidacy debates are self-serving competitions, hardly the articulate, intelligent forums we would like them to be. News guys love them because they're gaff gold, candidates hate them because they have to cram bullet points and invariably screw up — sometimes at the peril of their political ambition. Seems nobody wants to pull back the curtain on them, though. Curious. Here's an interesting link with some well-known debates: note that the sponsors are usually the media. Hmmmmm.…. Think deeper.

    • Which is why the one up in the woodlands recently between Cain and Newt was and interesting one. They got to flesh out their ideas not just bullet points. Need to find the youtube of that one again, it was very interesting.

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