Political Animal


October 27, 2011 9:40 AM Perry debates the value of debates

By Steve Benen

Rick Perry was the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, right up until he started participating in debates. Soon after, his support evaporated, and the Texas governor has slipped from first to third.

So, if debate performances undermined Perry’s chances, the governor seems to think the absence of debate performances might boost his chances.

A spokesman for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, raised the possibility on Wednesday that Mr. Perry might not participate in all of the contest’s upcoming debates.

“We will look at each debate individually and then make a decision,” Mark Miner, the spokesman for Mr. Perry, said. He earlier told Politico that the governor will participate in the next debate, in Michigan, but that future ones are not assured.

“I think all the campaigns are expressing frustration right now,” Mr. Miner said. “We said we would do Michigan but the primaries are around the corner and you have to use your time accordingly.”

Perry told Fox News the other night that it was “probably” a mistake agreeing to participate in the debates in the first place.

But in practical terms, what will the new strategy mean? There are 11 more debates — and counting — already scheduled through the end of January. If the nominee is not yet obvious by Feb. 1, it stands to reason there will be many more debates lined up. Indeed, the television networks will be eager to schedule as many as possible, since the ratings for these events tend to be quite good.

Exactly how long does Perry think he can run and hide?

As governor, he found these exercises optional, and chose not to bother. Last year, seeking a third term, Perry simply refused to debate his Democratic challenger, even if it made him look cowardly. The governor took a gamble, and assumed Texas was a “red” enough state that voters would back him anyway. He was right.

But that was in a race in which a conservative populace had to choose between a Republican governor and a Democratic challenger in a GOP-friendly year. In the presidential race, Perry is running against a large Republican field, and GOP voters have plenty of choices. If Perry doesn’t show up, he not only signals his weakness, he runs the risk of being forgotten about.

Besides, I think it’s the wrong diagnosis anyway. Debates in which Perry appeared incoherent have been a problem, but the governor’s support evaporated when the Republican base heard about in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants and the HPV vaccine. The debate performances didn’t help, but they weren’t necessarily the driving factor, either.

Ultimately, though, the question for Perry is straightforward: which makes him look worse? Hiding from the stage or showing up and looking foolish?

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.


Post a comment
  • Okiel on October 27, 2011 9:49 AM:

    "It is better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."

  • low-tech cyclist on October 27, 2011 9:50 AM:

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

    I'm good with that.

  • zmulls on October 27, 2011 9:54 AM:

    You may see a rush for the exits. Cain may opt to stay out as well, and if so, Romney won't want to share the stage with just the dwarves.

    Gingrich has already proposed a one-on-one with Cain.

    And frankly, everyone, even the media, is sick of the constant debates. The whole enterprise might dissipate, with smaller 2-or-3-person debates in the primary states.

  • T2 on October 27, 2011 10:00 AM:

    several points: it is Perry's positions on certain topics that has torpedoed his TeaParty support, not crappy debates. Crappy debates have torpedoed his support among what passes for normal republicans. Cain benefitted from the first, Romney the second.
    Those unpopular positions on Illegal college tuition, HPV and some other things are still there, he has not changed them...so the problem is still there. And he'll always be crappy in debates. At this point, trailing Cain and Paul in most early state polls, what has he got to lose by skipping the debates? It could work in his favor, but I'm guess in the sharp tongues of Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul will find a way to do what his Texas Dem opponents could not.....make him look like he's chicken. And of course, he is.

  • c u n d gulag on October 27, 2011 10:06 AM:

    Well, just like you can't blame the fat kid if he doesn't want to run 100 yard dashes, you can't blame the stupid kid for not wanting to take the tests.

    Of course, Perry needs to remember, it's not like he's running against Bolt, or competing in the SAT's against Merit Scholarship winners.
    They're all stumbling dolts.

  • Ronval912 on October 27, 2011 10:08 AM:

    If he were to somehow get the nom, he'd be crushed by Obama in the General election debates. He's signaling extreme weakness to his party's base

  • Diane Rodriguez on October 27, 2011 10:11 AM:

    I love the smell of desperation in the air.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on October 27, 2011 10:14 AM:

    It's a Faux Faux Faux world , wherein they only get interviewed by Faux, decline any forums where the unscreened unwashed masses might attend (hallo Ryan)and generally avoid the perils of that LIBRUL gotcha journalism where actual questions are asked about actual subjects (see Palin, Sarah).
    They have no desire to step outside the Faux bubble where they feel safe.

  • Kenneth D. Franks on October 27, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Perry created his own weakness by avoiding debates at all cost in the past. You've seen his G.P.A. What would you expect from a C student that made a D, I believe, in Economics and about the same or not much better in Animal Science. http://kennethdfranks.blogspot.com/

  • ComradeAnon on October 27, 2011 10:17 AM:

    Okiel, my thoughts exactly, but I modified it a bit:

    Is it better to remain silent and have everybody point out that you're an idiot than to speak and remove all doubt?

  • T2 on October 27, 2011 10:17 AM:

    I do agree that there is NO NEED for these morons to have dozens of "debates", the only value of them is to give the GOP a free platform to condemn the Obama policies once a week for a year. I can see Perry or any of them saying " I'll participate in some but not all". Especially since at least 4 of the debaters are polling 1-2%. The top three are the only ones that should be there. But appearing to chicken out because you can't speak a full sentence or stay awake or because your policies suck is not going to fly with the WingNut GOP.

  • stormskies on October 27, 2011 10:27 AM:

    What's truly astounding is to consider that this cretin has actually been elected four times in the state of Texas. What does this tell us about the nature of the population of that state ?

  • tanstaafl on October 27, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Avoiding debates can work for a frontrunner. It is probably the prefered strategy even for a good debater who is a reasonably popular incumbent in a two-way race.

    However, I can't see how it could possibly work for someone who is 4th or 5th in the polls in a primary race and when all the other candidates will be showing up at the debates.

  • johnny canuck on October 27, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Ronval912 on October 27, 2011 10:08 AM:

    If he were to somehow get the nom, he'd be crushed by Obama in the General election debates. He's signaling extreme weakness to his party's base

    Why do you assume he would participate in a debate against Obama? I suspect his campaign would find it impossible to agree to the rules, any rules, and he would therefore regretfully decline.

  • T2 on October 27, 2011 11:17 AM:

    I suspect Perry would demand Obama produce his birth certificate and the doctor who delivered him as a precondition for a debate.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on October 27, 2011 11:43 AM:

    Brave, brave Sir Rick!
    When danger reared it's ugly head
    He bravely turned his tail and fled!

  • johnny canuck on October 27, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Actually T2 you are one step behind, he wants to see Obama's transcripts (by then it will be kindergarten to law school). I think he believes either Obama graduated in the top 10 % from Harvard Law School with lower grades than he did, or that all those A's on Obama's transcript will discredit him as an "average" American- not part of the 99%.

  • rikyrah on October 27, 2011 11:59 AM:

    how are you going to be President if you can't even take down Willard Romney in a debate?

  • ManOutOfTime on October 27, 2011 12:04 PM:

    New Repug debate drinking game: take a shot every time one of the candidates mentions Perry in the debates. Two if it's prefaced with "If Governor Perry were here ..."

  • bdop4 on October 27, 2011 12:20 PM:

    This endless stream of GOP debates is the best thing that has happened to the Democratic Party in quite a while.

    It might be the opposite if there was any meaningful conversation going on, but all it has achieved is to showcase the utter lack of perception, empathy and principles of the candidates and the rightwing audience.

    Win-win situation as far as I'm concerned.

  • Robert Waldmann on October 27, 2011 11:11 PM:

    Your question was answered over two hundred years ago
    S Benen "the question for Perry is straightforward: ...showing up and looking foolish?"
    s Johnson "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

    Of course Mr Johnson was oppposed to this radical idea called the USA (see "Taxation no Tyranny" S. Johnson 1775) and had never dreamed of the Republican party (the thought of a genius with Tourette syndrome commenting on the Republican party makes me grab my smelling salts and click this link http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/)