Rick Perry is bad in debates. Really bad. This morning's coverage of his incredible brain freeze last night compares the moment, unfavorably, with Gerald Ford's assertion that "there is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe," with Al Gore's sighs and Michael Dukakis's death penalty flub.
But the underlying problem is that Perry is no longer the answer to the most pressing question in the Republican primary right now: Which candidate will emerge to coalesce the anti-Mitt Romney factions within the GOP?
The obsession the media has had with the prospect of new blood entering the field stems from the underlying assumption that Romney is a front-runner in name only, that his support for health care legislation in Massachusetts, his myriad flip flops and his less-than-stellar relations with social conservatives would eventually lead to his defeat. This year has seen a parade of pseudo-candidates (Donald Trump), non-candidates (Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour) and long-shots (Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann) grab headlines as the Next Big Thing in the Republican field.
To many this summer, Perry was the real deal, the answer to that question. And he started off with a bang; his entry into the race, on the same day as the Iowa straw poll, effectively robbed Bachmann of any spotlight and doomed her campaign to obscurity. His blistering fundraising pace put him on par with what looked like the unassailable Romney juggernaut. And his record on the economy, at first glance, gave Republican voters a reason to think he could have compared favorably with President Obama next November.