The Texas governor started off just fine. While his answers on Social Security and immigration were far from perfect, they were steady enough. (Remember that Perry, as the frontrunner, simply has to avoid making big mistakes, not score huge victories.) Unfortunately for Perry, the debate was two hours long not one. In the second half, he appeared distracted and off his game — big time. His answer on Pakistan was odd — India? — and he totally flubbed a pre-planned attack on the idea that Romney has taken a number of seemingly contradictory positions on a variety of issues. The lingering impression Perry left with his now-trademark second half fade was a guy who might not be ready for primetime. Not good.
Perry has to reverse his slide, and for about a half-hour he seemed to be doing that. But then the fumbles and the missed opportunities came. He gave a near-incoherent answer on an arguably hard question on what to do if Pakistan lost control of its nuclear weapons. He said we should be friends with India (a non-sequitur and hardly a weak point for President Obama). He was smashed on the in-state tuition question (to my chagrin, since his more moderate immigration policy is essential for the long-term prospects of the party).
He then made two errors that will come back to haunt him. First, in distinguishing himself from George W. Bush, he said he disagreed on Medicare Part D. (In the last debate, Perry had said he’d support keeping it.) More importantly, in a tussle with Romney, he declared that he wouldn’t move an inch away from his book. Yikes! That ties him to a host of positions that he presumably no longer believes. In the book, he favors states being allowed to legalize pot and gay marriage, and repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments. Moreover, it is in that book that he argues Social Security is unconstitutional.
But the moment that may have sunk him was when he attempted to reel off the list of Romney flip-flops. He seemed to lose his place, get tired and stumble. Was he physically tired? Did he have a senior moment? The conservative media on Twitter did a group gasp.