Perry went on all three network morning shows Thursday, and forced a grin even as every anchor read the tweets of various Republican consultants that his campaign was dead, that the 53 painful seconds in which he couldn't list all three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate was the political equivalent of the Challenger explosion.
Immediately after Wednesday's primary debate, Rick Perry rushed into the spin room to reiterate his commitment to eliminating the most oppressive job-killing government agencies, whatever they might be. "I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven't forgotten my conservative principles," Perry said, according to Politico. It was just the first of many hours of damage control for the former Republican frontrunner.
In the morning, NBC's Today show forced Perry to watch the whole clip -- taking up more than a minute of the 4 minute and 22 second segment -- and tracked his forced smile the whole time in a painful split screen. Ann Curry asked, What happened? "I think that I'm like most Americans in that there are so many agencies of government I'd like to forget that the Department of Energy was one of those," Perry said. It was a line he repeated several times Thursday morning. "The issue wasn't about whether I can, uh, sing off a line about a number of agencies. It truly gets to the core of the matter that we've got so much government out there." He insisted he's not dropping out of the race. "You know what day it is? It's the 236 birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. If there was a day to stay in a fight this is it."
On CBS's The Early Show, the anchor asked, "With all due respect, what were you thinking last night?" Perry said, "I made an error. I stepped in it is what my wife would have said. And she was right. All of us make mistakes. I'm a human being. And the issue here is that I had a lapse of memory." But is it fair to say you didn't look presidential? "We can talk about style over substance all we want but Americans are looking for someone who will truly give them hope," Perry said. "If anyone's looking for the candidate, I may not be it, but I'm pretty sure the perfect candidate's not made."
On ABC's Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos also read Perry several mean comments, and said, "Boy no one wants pity from an opponent." Perry again said there were just so many federal agencies to think of, "And again, there are going to be some mistakes made and we’ll deal with those as we go thru them and Americans are pretty forgiving people." Americans "know that there's not a perfect candidate that's been made yet I'm kind of proof positive of it every day ... My conservative beliefs about getting this country back on track are very deep founded."
Perry said he would continue on and be at the next debate, in South Carolina Saturday. He wasn't the first Republican presidential candidate forced to say he's staying in the race this week. Herman Cain said that too on Tuesday, after literally saying he'd never done anything inappropriate ever. "Romney's rivals continue to implode," is the headline for Politico's Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns story on the debate noting that just two months before the Iowa caucuses, no strong anti-Mitt Romney candidate has emerged. "[W]e continue to take [Perry] and all the other candidates very seriously as competitors for the nomination," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told Politico, though he probably meant the opposite. Likewise, National Review's Rich Lowry writes:
I remember one of the early debates when Romney was flying above the other candidates and Pawlenty -- I think -- attacked him and he declined to reply, saying "that's fine." He said the same thing tonight when Santorum went after him. After all the churning in the race, Romney is in the same basically comfortable place he was in several months ago. ...
Perry passed on a couple of chances to hit Romney, so clearly his hope was to just skate through this debate, and he couldn't manage it.
The New York Times' Nate Silver says that while not many people watch primary debates, "the big moments are replayed for days afterward by the news networks and on the Web .... Had another candidate made the same mistake, they might have gotten a mulligan. But Mr. Perry used his mulligans up long ago after stammering answers and poor overall performances in several of his previous debates." Perry's greatest strength is his ability to raise a lot of money, but even that might be in doubt. A "prominent" Perry backer sent Politico's Ben Smith an email that's almost haiku of political pain." Subject line: "i'm sad." Text:
stuck a fork in himself
can't decide which is worse Dean scream or Perry oops
bourbon for me, i think