Political Animal


October 30, 2011 9:55 AM An abrupt end to Perry’s debate trial balloon

By Steve Benen

Just four days ago, Rick Perry’s presidential campaign suggested the Texas governor might stop showing up for candidate debates. It’s an awkward calculation: if starts skipping the events, Perry looks cowardly and unprepared; it he participates, he looks clumsy, uninformed, and unprepared. Some at campaign HQ were apparently more inclined to avoid the latter.

But the pushback apparently proved too intense. Last night, the AP reported that Perry will be there for at least the next five scheduled debates.

Rick Perry plans to participate in at least five more presidential primary debates, his campaign said Saturday, dismissing speculation that the Texas governor’s lackluster performances so far would lead him to skip future Republican debates.

Perry, who has struggled through parts of his first five debates, will attend all of the events currently scheduled in November as well as a December debate, his spokesman, Ray Sullivan, told The Associated Press.

Well, if Perry wanted to lower expectations for his next debate performance, I suppose the strategy was a success.

On a related note, Ronval912 and johnny canuck raised an interesting point in comments the other day about Perry and the debates: what happens if the Texas governor wins the Republican nomination and is expected to go up against President Obama three times next fall?

Assuming for the sake of conversation that Perry gets the GOP nod — an unlikely, but not impossible, scenario — the governor couldn’t simply refuse to share a stage with the president. It’s why I think johnny canuck’s reaction was the right one: “I suspect his campaign would find it impossible to agree to the rules, any rules, and he would therefore regretfully decline.”

That sounds right to me. The campaigns always get together to negotiate the terms of the debates (pick formats, choose moderators, etc.). In the event of an Obama-Perry match-up, I imagine Perry’s team would come up with a series of bizarre demands — “The president must wear a beer-bong hat and refer to the governor at all times as ‘The Emperor’” — that Obama’s team would reject. Perry’s campaign would then blame the president and his staff for being unreasonable and argue that they have no choice but to decline.

Or maybe we’d get one debate out of them, ala season four of The West Wing.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DAY on October 30, 2011 10:02 AM:

    I have a source that tells me the new Perry Strategy will be to reply to any and all attacks with the tried and true, "I know you are, but what am I?"

  • Danp on October 30, 2011 10:07 AM:

    Or maybe we’d get one debate out of them, ala season four of The West Wing.

    More likely, it will be like the ABC debate in 2008, where most of the questions were about flag pins, WIlliam Ayers and Jeremiah Wright." Regardless of the rest of the debate, those topics will dominate the next day's headlines. The opportunity to throw in a cute zinger would be a bonus for Perry.

  • berttheclock on October 30, 2011 10:11 AM:

    Should Perry debate Obama, look for the press to denounce Obama for being mean spirited and a smarty pants to Perry. "Big Meanie" will emulate the days following Gore defeating Bush in debates. The RepuGs will relate to the Class Clown as, they really abhor the smartest kid in the class, especially, being an African-American, showing up their kind. "We Want Gomer" will become their cry.

  • SteveT on October 30, 2011 10:16 AM:

    I imagine Perry's team would come up with a series of bizarre demands . . . that Obama's team would reject. Perry's campaign would then blame the president and his staff for being unreasonable and argue that they have no choice but to decline.

    And the corporate-controlled media would immediately begin echoing Perry's charges every eight minutes and continue echoing it through the entire campaign.

    Obama would eventually offer to wear a beer-bong hat and refer to Perry as "Your Excellency the Governor", which the Perry campaign would reject as being "too partisan".

    This election frightens me. There are too many ways that Obama can lose, dragging the rest of the Democratic ticket down with him. Looking at the blatant voter suppression that's already happening, electing any of the Republican hopefuls could mean that 2012 will be America's last presidential election.

  • hells littlest angel on October 30, 2011 10:17 AM:

    Perry needs to go back to rural Texas and do some serious debate preparation -- copping a couple of grams of crystal meth.

  • c u n d gulag on October 30, 2011 10:20 AM:

    The President better not *sigh*, or it's over!

  • DRF on October 30, 2011 10:24 AM:

    In response to berttheclock--Just reflect on how Obama debated against McCain: he let his calmness, "Presidential" demeanor, articulateness and substantive preparedness speak for itself. Rather than attacking McCain and appearing "mean", he simply outshone McCain. Same with the Biden/Palin debate. Biden didn't attack Palin or criticize her obviously lame answers and non-answers. To all but the blind Palinites, Biden was clearly superior.

    In debates with Perry, Obama will adopt a similar approach--he won't point out Perry's obvious weaknesses, he will simply be himself.

    If Perry's debate performances don't significantly improve over the course of the remaining REpublican debates and he nevertheless wins the nomination, I think there's a better than 50% chance that he will refuse to debate Obama--thinking that the refusal to debate won't ultimately lose him votes. On the other hand, he may think that poor debate performance didn't hurt him in the primaries, so why expect it to hurt him in the general?

  • berttheclock on October 30, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Excellent points, DRF, but, I was suggesting how the press will play the debate and, how, it will be picked up by the important voters, that is the Independents, who are not political junkies. Short attention spans and sound bites. The TPers will not waver.

    However, off thread, but, the marvelous lady from "The Nation" was on C-Span, this AM and KV opined how she missed the sane Rockerfeller Republicans of old. I would add the Knight Republicans out of San Francisco to that group, as well. She spoke of the current radical and very extreme portion of the current RepuG Party to which the majority of the debaters wish to sway. That group will never listen to sane reasoning. We need the support of the Independents, so, I hope they will listen to our President.

  • hells littlest angel on October 30, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Perry vs. Obama? Really? I think a more realistic hypothetical would be Superman vs. The Hulk.

  • berttheclock on October 30, 2011 10:49 AM:

    "The Hulk" - You do know that Lou Feriggno had a speech impediment?

  • Kathryn on October 30, 2011 10:49 AM:

    We all need to work towards changing the narrative between now and then. Support defeating the Ohio union stripping bill, the recall of Scott Walker, the personhood amendment in Alabama by sending whatever pennies we can spare to those efforts. Anything we can do to bolster Wall Street protests could help too. I, too, fear Rick Perry trying to weasel out of debates, no doubt working on zingers 24-7.

    Washington Post strikes again, by the way. Lori Montgomery has a front page scare story on Social Security, soundly debunked by Dean Baker this morning in Beat The Press. Who is she, also author of article a couple of weeks ago blaming Democrats for challenging GOP on FEMA funding? Someone smarter than I needs to get letter to the editor published debunking her latest hit job. I managed to get one published about the FEMA funding but article on Social Security too complex for me to tackle. There are some very smart and educated people who comment who this blog up to the job, in my opinion.

  • Ladyhawke on October 30, 2011 10:50 AM:

    When I first saw this youtube highlights video of Rick Perry giving the Cornerstone speech, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was one of those videos where someone used another voice for the comedic value. Well as far as I can tell, this is really Rick Perry speaking. It clearly shows that he is not ready for prime time.

    And by the way, I think he should insist like Michele (with one L) Bachmann that he will never use a teleprompter for his speeches. You will notice he spends a good deal of time looking down at notes on the podium. He makes weird grimaces with his face and strange gestures with his arms and hand. At times his voice inflections seemed to be out of synch with the arm movements. It was painful to watch.

    Being able to debate your opponents and give a coherent speech are bare minimum requirements for anyone seeking the office of president. Maybe he will get an extreme makeover before the next debate. His supporters better hope so. Because so far there is nothing about Rick Perry that is remotely presidential.

    Perry's Cornerstone Speech Highlights


  • Ronval912 on October 30, 2011 10:51 AM:

    The CW is that Obama is an excellent debater and Perry is a tool. Nobody will buy the "Obama's demands were too unreasonable" argument if the two camps cannot agree on a debate format.

  • Kenneth D. Franks on October 30, 2011 10:55 AM:

    I don't see Perry debating Obama if he gets the nomination. He has gotten away with this type of behavior in Texas and would try to move that to strategy the national level. Right leaning and right wing Republicans are so determined to make Obama a one term President they will blindly vote for a not qualified for the office, Perry, over Obama. Independents hopefully and
    Democrats will provide enough votes to give Obama a second term.
    Everyone should be made aware of how many votes Republican legislatures are trying to suppress and instead of voter registration drives we need voter education initiatives to educate people how important it is to get their voter I.D. picture or whatever new obstacles Republican legislatures have put between the current registered voters and being able to vote next year. http://kennethdfranks.blogspot.com/

  • Rip on October 30, 2011 11:05 AM:

    In the unlikely event that Perry gets the nomination, he will agree to debates, and likely be far better prepared than he is now, at least to the point where he will have specific script drilled into his head, and will not waver from it. The beltway media may give him a pass, and not pile on if he stumbles, but even they see the the danger of a Perry presidency ( as opposed to a Romney one - which they would be just fine with) and won't help spin the results to favor the Republican.

    By the general election, the Republican presidential candidate will not be running on Republican "ideas", beyond vague platitudes about creating jobs and bringing back America's greatness, as the specifics of the Republican vision of the future tend not to play well with the larger electorate. He (and it will be a he) will be simply running as "not Obama". This only has a chance of working if the candidate himself appears to be a less scary alternative to those voters with reservations about another Obama term. Romney might be able to pull this off, Perry probably can't.

  • jjm on October 30, 2011 11:22 AM:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I certanly do not recall this many debates being a feature of previous election seasons. How many have the GOP held so far, all nationally televised, and they plan at least five more?

    As far as I can see this is their way to garner free publicity for their below par candidates. The debates--and their audiences--have been disastrous for the GOP, I think. And the sheer quantity of them dilutes any effectiveness they might have.

  • Kathryn on October 30, 2011 12:14 PM:

    ljm, I believe you are correct.

  • N.Wells on October 30, 2011 12:24 PM:

    If Perry is nominated, he will try to weasel out of the debates. It won't work, but he'll beat it down to only one debate, with most voters somehow becoming convinced in the process that political debates are some sort of French communist socialist evil, and that Obama's insistence on having a debate is somehow a stroke against him. When the debate happens, the media will have been drumming the theme that if Perry somehow manages to avoid errors on the order of peeing on the carpet he will have wildly exceeded expectations, while Obama will have come up short if he finishes the debate without resolving the economic crisis and parting the Red Sea on live television. Perry will be coached endlessly to deliver a particular gotcha statement without stumbling, which he will fire off at the earliest quasi-plausible instance. Even though it won't address the question at hand (i.e., like Reagan's "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience") and wouldn't quite have made sense even if he had waited for the perfect moment, the press will fall in love with it and declare victory for Perry.

  • Peter C on October 30, 2011 4:20 PM:

    Whoever wins the nomination will assuredly say, "We've had too many debates already! We don't need any more." The media will chime in that this is exhaustion and not fear of debating President Obama.

  • burro on October 30, 2011 5:42 PM:

    Watch the video that Ladyhawke provides at 10:50. Gov. Blowhard will never have the opportunity to stand on the same stage as President Obama. r.p. is not mentally strong enough to bear up under the pressure of what he has jumped into. In his case, a dork is a dork is a dork, and the longest serving governor of Texas is a profoundly limited human being.

    His elevated position in the hierarchy of gov't is solely attributable to his ability to hand out perks, opportunity and largess to those who probably consider him a dumbass, but he's been their very convenient dumbass, so hell yeah, keep him right where he is. But make no mistake, rick perry is maxed out. There is nothing more than what you see on the video at Ladyhawke.

  • mike reilly on October 30, 2011 7:54 PM:

    You mean Perry might actually make outrageous demands to debate. You mean, the kind of demands the Reps have been doing for over two years. I think everyone needs to rethink the debates regardless who the nominee will be, because they will all do a "Perry"... it's in their DNA right now.

  • Daniel Kim on October 30, 2011 11:29 PM:

    The Perry campaign will insist that, before any debate can take place against the president, there should be a Balanced Budget Amendment.

  • Dave C. on October 31, 2011 1:59 AM:

    Generally a candidate will do better in debates as he gets more of them under his belt. Hasn't been the case for Perry. This doesn't speak well for Perry's confidence, or for whoever was foolish enough to float the idea in the first place. They should have known this wouldn't fly.

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