Perry Campaign Tries To Right Debate 'Oops'

Nov 10, 2011
Originally published on November 10, 2011 5:32 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The presidential campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry went on the offensive today. Perry appeared on five TV morning shows to explain his performance in last night's candidates debate in Michigan, specifically, the near minute Perry spent trying to remember two words: Energy Department. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Governor Rick Perry was in the midst of discussing how he would cut the federal budget.


GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: It's three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone: Commerce, Education and the - what's the third one there? Let's see.

GOODWYN: Perry turned toward his fellow Texan, Congressman Ron Paul, as if for help with the name of the third agency. Paul had no idea which one Perry wanted. But Paul knew three weren't enough.



PERRY: Oh, five. OK. So...

PAUL: You mean five.

PERRY: Commerce, education and the...


PERRY: EPA, there you go. No, no - kidding.

GOODWYN: It was amusing for everyone there, especially Perry's opponents Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. But as it went on, Perry continued to suffer on stage.


JOHN HARWOOD: Is EPA the one that you were talking about or...

PERRY: No, sir. No, sir. We're talking about the agencies of government - EPA needs to be rebuilt. There's no doubt about it.

HARWOOD: But you can't name the third one?

PERRY: The third agency of government I would do away with, the Education...

PAUL: Commerce.

PERRY: ...the Commerce and, let's see, I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.

GOODWYN: This, of course, is not the first time Rick Perry has tripped over himself in a primary debate. In an attack on Mitt Romney in September in Florida, Perry got confused.


PERRY: Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of - against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it was before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against verse - Roe v. Wade?

GOODWYN: In the past, the Perry campaign has reacted defensively. Last night and this morning, it reacted nimbly, sending the candidate out to meet the media for damage control. It wasn't easy. On CNN's "American Morning" show, Christine Romans grilled Perry.


CHRISTINE ROMANS: You think you're not the best debater out there, but, you know, pretty much debater in chief is what the president of the United States is.

PERRY: Look, we've got a debater in chief right now, and you got to ask yourself, how is that working out for America?

GOODWYN: Romans would not let Perry off the hook.


ROMANS: What I'm saying is that you have to be debating the Chinese, you have to be debating in the Middle East, you have to be debating - what kind of - what's the way forward for Europe. I mean, the skills that you need on that stage, many would say, you need as president.

PERRY: Oh, I would just suggest to you that we need substance more than we need style.

GOODWYN: What happened to Rick Perry last night has happened to almost all of us. We knew what we were about to say and suddenly the idea flies out of our mind, headed toward Mars. But repeated problems raise questions about Perry's readiness, for the debates and the job of president. Mike Murphy is a Republican political consultant.

MIKE MURPHY: It's rare that somebody actually gets worse every debate. Normally, they start bad and get better. He's kind of a trailblazer in that regard.

GOODWYN: Murphy has despaired as he's watched Perry's debate performances. During one debate, he tweeted that watching the Texas governor tackle a complex policy question was like watching a chimp with a locked suitcase. But the GOP consultant says that with Herman Cain's sexual harassment troubles, Perry had a real opportunity last night.

MURPHY: He's got a chance to make his case, maybe he can have a comeback. He is from a big state. He's got a good story to tell. But I can't imagine a worse debate night than he had last night, short of grabbing the microphone and beating somebody to death.

GOODWYN: Perry's campaign has indicated it wants to cut back on the governor's debates, and the ones he does attend, he's going to have to prove to potential voters that he can be more articulate. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.