I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s considered skipping debates. Have debates ever so hurt someone’s candidacy? He’s tied for fourth in Iowa in the latest CNN/Time poll. I don’t discount the possibility that he finds a second wind, given the volatility of the race and the hunger on part of many Republicans for someone besides Romney. But he’s got big problems: 1) Even if he performs perfectly from now until the end of the primary season, there is always going to be a seed of doubt about him: Can he be trusted when the lights are brightest and the stakes their highest in the fall of 2012 not to throw it all away with some gaffe? 2) He has a lot of money for TV ads. But if he runs a barrage of negatives against Romney, it probably only drags down his own image further. If he runs mostly positive ads, I’m not sure whether they can cancel out his performance in the debates. What is someone likelier to believe–an ad or what they saw on live TV in the debates? 3) A flat tax sounds bold and catchy, but his optional flat tax isn’t quite a flat tax. Is it simple and clear enough to reignite enthusiasm for him? 4) All his focus is on beating up on Romney, but he’s presumably going to have a two-front war at some point. If at the end of the day Romney doesn’t go full-out in Iowa, the threat to Perry’s candidacy in the caucuses will be from Cain (leading most polls at the moment) or Newt (gaining) or someone else. At the beginning of the race, it looked like him and Romney; now he needs to crawl above other competitors just to get back into that two-man contest.
by Rich Lowry