By now, it's conventional wisdom that Gov. Rick Perry's debate performances have gone from bad to worse. "Not yet ready for primetime." "A train wreck." "Flubbed" and "stumbled." "Yikes." "Close to a disqualifying two hours." And those were the judgments of conservative pundits.
There were differing explanations for Perry's poor performances, everything from chronic back pain to chronic dimwittedness. My own theory was that Perry was having a difficult time trying to walk back some of his more outrageous statements from the first days of his campaign (e.g., Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie"). I said he was trying to sound reasonable, which could be a stretch for him.
I don't think my explanation stands up to scrutiny. Perry may have backpedaled from his Social Security comments, but he doubled down on some of his other controversial actions (e.g., HPV vaccinations, Texas DREAM act). He didn't help himself with GOP primary voters either way.
After the jump, my new, new theory for Perry's debate performances.
The simple explanation might be the best. Perry is competent, but not skilled at debating. The weaknesses he could get by with in Texas stand out on the national stage.
Before the first of the GOP Presidential debates, I thought the opposite. I posted this comment on a Paul Burka blog item: "Watch his debate with KBH and Medina during the Texas GOP gubernatorial primary last year. He more than held his own. Watch his interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last year. Stewart never got a glove on him."
Paul Burka replied, "I totally disagree with Mark S about Perry’s performance in the [Texas gubernatorial] debates. He was totally uncomfortable in the first debate, rolling his eyes, shaking his head, acting juvenile. He hated being up there with those two wimmin. It was a terrible performance. He was better in the second debate."
In my own defense, I watched the second debate, not the first. And I still think Perry held his own against Jon Stewart. But I now have to admit that Paul Burka's assessment of Perry's debating skill was a better predictor than my own. Perry's performances in the GOP presidential debates force me to concede the point. Perry's skill as a debater is spotty at best. What skills he might have did not serve him well in the GOP presidential debates. I stand corrected.
It's too early to write off Perry's chances at the GOP nomination, but not too early to write off my previous high opinion of Perry's debating skills.