the national interest

Rick Perry Commits Political Suicide Onstage at the Ninth GOP Debate

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a Republican Presidential Debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Perry, mid-brainmelt. Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

And that’s it for Rick Perry. His latest debate performance was so world-historically awful that it truly seems beyond all repair. The basic problem is that it’s impossible to imagine anything he could do that could have a strong enough positive effect to counteract the negative effect of his epic brain melt, which is piled atop the memory of a series of previous brain melts. The forum of a presidential campaign does not offer a lot of opportunities for upward movement. Unless Perry happens to leap in front of a bullet intended for Nancy Reagan, there’s simply nothing he can do to atone for the cumulative damage he has done himself.

If you haven’t seen the epic, horrible, painful moment, here it is:

The carnage from this epic, horrible moment was immediate. One top Perry fund-raiser tells Aaron Blake, “Perry campaign is over.” Another e-mails Ben Smith, “stuck a fork in himself.”

For those who suffered through it, the Michigan debate did reveal other interesting things about the field. At one point Herman Cain answered a health care question by referring contemptuously to Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy,” misogyny dripping from every syllable. In that one ugly phrase — and it was all in the delivery — he ripped the mask off his cornpone persona and revealed the ugly interior.

Mitt Romney continues to expunge all signs of intelligent life from his public persona. The Romney formula is, when confronted with his technocratic past, to quickly elide the question and then start spurting out pledges of tribal allegiance. (He’ll repeal Obamacare! He won’t apologize for America!) The most remarkable such moment occurred when he railed against President Obama for caring more about his reelection than helping the economy. Does anybody believe that Romney cares less than Obama about getting elected? Anybody at all, even Republicans? Members of the Romney family?

The debate focused on the economy, and its stated purpose was to drill down into specifics. The moderators, led by John Harwood and Maria Bartiromo, admirably carried out this role. What they revealed was that the GOP field had almost no interest in engaging any question at a specific level. Rick Santorum pledged a special tax rate for manufacturers, and Newt Gingrich riffed on different higher education models. Other than that, every fact that was thrown at the contenders was spit back with the rote “markets good, government bad” formulation. Nobody would engage on Italy or the housing market. As far as all the contenders are concerned, “the economy” means only one thing: Democrats ruined the economy with too much taxes, spending, and regulation. No question that cannot be answered by repeating that premise is worth answering.

Ultimately, Rick Perry is going to be remembered as the man too stupid to win this Republican nomination. That is a remarkable feat.

Rick Perry Commits Political Suicide at Debate