Back at the end of August, I wrote in the Morning Jolt:
Jeb Ellis is one of those guys who I wish wrote more, because it always seems thought-provoking, it certainly seems to be generated by discussions with folks at the highest levels of finance and politics (he is President George W. Bush’s cousin, you’ll recall) and sometimes you can feel him nudging the national conventional wisdom in a new direction, paragraph by paragraph: “The Republican ‘establishment,’ such as it is, is quickly coming to the realization that the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is Texas Governor Rick Perry’s to lose. He leads in Iowa and he hasn’t even really campaigned there yet. He’s running second in New Hampshire, which is all he needs to do. And he’s running comfortably ahead in South Carolina (again, without much campaigning), which is the gateway to the South. The South is the base of the modern Republican Party. Perry has become, in less than a month, the Southern states’ de facto favorite son.”
Of course, that was two debates ago, and Ellis now writes that we’re still waiting for Perry to slam the door on his competition:
Had Texas Governor Rick Perry performed better in the two most recent GOP presidential candidates’ debates, he’d be well on his way to the 2012 nomination . . .
Back surgery in all likelihood had something to do with his apparent weariness and inarticulate answers.
But more alarming was Perry’s evident lack of command of the subject matter. As John Podhoretz wrote at Commentary after the CNN/Tea Party debate, Perry had trouble with some fairly straightforward policy questions. He seemed not only out of his depth, he seemed unprepared. Here’s Podhoretz:
The main problem here, though, is that he seems to think he can wing these debates by referring to what he did in Texas here and what he did in Texas there. That is insufficient not just when it comes to giving voters a chance to judge him by the policy choices he might make; it’s insufficient because it suggests he thinks he can get away without getting specific and demonstrating a command of national and international issues.
. . . Perry need only meet two tests to win the nomination. Test #1 is that he has the knowledge and experience to serve effectively as president. Test #2 is that he has an even (or better than even) chance of defeating President Obama next November. All the other pieces of the puzzle are there. He has a very powerful base. He has the money. He has (enough) established political support.
Perry has so far failed Test #1. He needs to pass it, again and again, in debate after debate, to win. If he continues to fall short in these debates, then he won’t be the nominee. He’ll be in the discard pile with all the others.
I can near-guarantee that the comments section under this post will be full of commentators insisting that Perry was fantastic in the debates, and that this is petty carping from the inside-the-Beltway Georgetown cocktail-party establishment squish RINO class. And I’m sure there will be those — who transparently prefer another candidate — who will declare that the Perry mystique is broken, that he’s obviously a dunce, that he has coasted on shallow charm that plays well in Texas but will flop in much of the rest of the country.
I think the best one can say about Perry’s two debate performances is that they’ve been good enough — he is, after all, still the frontrunner in most polls. I think the worst you can say is that, so far, Perry is deeply disappointing to any Republican who wanted a presidential nominee who could naturally and easily articulate a powerful argument for conservative principles and think on his feet.
It’s not like the idea that Michele Bachmann would go after him was a surprise, nor was the angle of “crony capitalism,” and the heart of Perry’s defense is that he’s offended that someone would accuse him of altering his position for a donation so small.
Perry has plenty of time, and will have plenty of opportunities to regroup. But it’s fascinating to think that the conventional wisdom around him could change so dramatically in two weeks, and essentially after two key nights . . .