There is a sympathetic case to be made for Rick Perry's spectacular flameout along the lines once suggested by my colleague Ron Brownstein: Perry simply never had a chance to learn and grow as a presidential candidate. In the old days, before the internet and social media and 24-hour cable, would-be presidential contenders could make their rookie errors in relative anonymity in town halls in Iowa or New Hampshire, away from the blaze of the national media. Even Mitt Romney had four years to get it right after his error-strewn bid in 2008 (and he's still not quite there yet).
Perry, by contrast, was thrust immediately onto the national stage in the first GOP debate, as the first Great Red Hope alternative to Romney. And not surprisingly, he began failing immediately.
But the larger problem was that Perry never did grow into the role, 16 debates and two primary states later. And as much as GOP voters still hunger for a Not-Mitt-Who's-Not-Newt, even they quickly realized that Perry just wasn't presidential timber. He simply could not recover. Perry's "oops" moment in November--his brain freeze when he tried to remember which federal agencies he planned to cut--will go down with Dan Quayle's misspelling of "potato" as one of the most disastrous disqualifying episodes in modern presidential history.
And he continued to have "oops" moments, each a more embarrassing revelation of his ignorance than the last. At Monday night's debate in South Carolina, Perry declared that Turkey, one of America's most important allies (and a country that will be even more crucial to U.S. national interests in the future; read Zbigniew Brzezinski's forthcoming book, "Strategic Vision," for the reasons why), was governed by "Islamic terrorists." He blundered jingoistically in defending the Marines who had urinated on Taliban bodies, offending even the military. He asserted that the government must get out of the housing market and "free up Wall Street," even as mortgages remain underwater to a record degree, and even as he lambasted Romney for being a "vulture" capitalist.
Nothing seemed to add up, because it was clear that Perry himself wasn't connecting enough dots in his own head to add up to anything like a vision of how the country, or the economy, or the world, works. And let's face it: Perry had a larger burden of proof, considering that he was another Texas governor who was following in the footsteps of one of the most disastrously unready presidents in American history.
A Perry aide, speaking to my colleague Alex Roarty today, basically conceded that Perry was simply not prepared for the rigors of the campaign trail. "You can run Texas all you want; it doesn't help you prepare to answer questions about Turkish terrorists," he said.
All of which points up, yet again, the central problem facing the Republican Party today: it doesn't much like Romney--and perhaps likes him even less now considering what he didn't pay in taxes--but can't seem to find an alternative who's qualified to be president.
he question now, with Rick Santorum seeming to fade, is whether GOP voters will decide the same thing about Newt. You're on, Marianne.