Rick Perry Appears Doomed
National Journal’s Ron Fournier passes along a report from South Carolina that should cause real concern among the Rick Perry faithful:
The betting in Spartanburg is that Perry is toast. Republican leaders say they don’t see how he can recover from his agonizing memory lapse in Wednesday’s debate, the latest stumble in a fumble-prone candidacy.
“There has to be a lot of establishment (Perry backers) in this state now who say, “Get me out. How do I get off this?'” said Doug Smith, a Spartanburg lawyer and former state lawmaker who is not yet connected to a presidential campaign.
Two other state GOP leaders told the National Journal that they also believe Perry cannot recover. “His money will dry up,” said one official who spoke on condition he not be identified because he still works closely with the Perry team. “He’s only going to get money from people who need favors in Texas.”
Some GOP voters here are also ruling Perry out. Ed Cheek, a Columbia pastor, watched Rep. Michele Bachmann shake hands at diner Thursday night while he talked about the Texas governor. “I like Governor Perry and want to vote for him,” Cheek said, “But after last night you can put a fork in him.”
On top of that, a new Rasmussen poll has bad news for the Texas Governor:
Of the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is viewed most favorably by all voters, while Texas Governor Rick Perry is the least liked. Among Republican voters, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich still earn mostly positive reviews, while Perry and Ron Paul do not.
Following his devastating debate freeze, just 25% of voters nationwide now have a favorable opinion of Perry.
With numbers like that, it’s going to be hard for Perry to come back from his latest bad debate. If this had been a one-time thing, he’d probably be okay, but it’s not and if Rick Perry needed to do one thing over the next two months, he needed to make sure not to reinforce the doubts that he created in people’s minds in September. To the extent that he might have been succeeding in doing that in October, it all came tumbling down Wednesday night.
Yesterday, Jonah Goldberg pointed out why the effort to get beyond this latest disaster with self-deprecating humor, such as last night’s Letterman appearance, isn’t likely to work:
First, if it works to candidates’ advantage to have embarrassing meltdowns on stage we’d see it more often. Why not take a big swig from a glass of milk before every tough question on the Euro or housing policy so you can explode it out of your nose before answering? That way you can get all kinds of free media the next day!
Second, I think people in some ways are letting Perry off easy precisely because this “gaffe” was so egregious (we’ve all frozen up in front of audiences before. I think I can remember every time it’s happened to me with excruciating accuracy). People naturally want to take a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I position on something like this. In other words, if it was less horrible he might be getting more grief. But put aside the queasy awkwardness of the moment for a second. Perry couldn’t remember that he wants to shut down the Department of Energy!? For weeks, energy reform was the only substantive policy he’d put forward. Energy is still one of the only topics he can discuss with anything approaching fluency. But he couldn’t remember he wanted to shut down DOE? It’d be more understandable if he forgot the Department of Commerce — people forget the existence of the Commerce Department all of the time.
Last, and this is a point a lot of people are making, but it’s an important one. His performance last night confirmed — with an exclamation point — the negative narrative of his entire campaign. Everyone could forgive Ron Paul if he spaced out on the name of a cabinet agency he wanted to shutter, because everyone knows that Ron Paul knows what he knows and has no problem explaining himself under normal circumstances. People are much more unsure about Perry and he compounded that uncertainty last night. It’s fine to say everyone has these bad moments. That’s true. Everyone makes mistakes. What you look for are patterns. Last night was so deadly because Perry reinforced his pattern rather than deviated from it. And he was already on borrowed time.
At this point, the odds of Rick Perry becoming a contender again seem slim indeed. If it happens, it will require him to pull off a surprise victory, or at least a surprisingly strong second, in a state like Iowa or South Carolina. If the reaction of Iowa voters are anything like what people in South Carolina are saying, though, that seems highly unlikely.