Rick Perry's Campaign: Dead. Cause of Death: Self-Inflicted, Brought on by Amnesia

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 10 2011 1:19 AM

The Big Oops

How Rick Perry killed what was left of his campaign at the Republican presidential debate in Michigan.

Rick Perry
Rick Perry's campaign is unliklely to recover from his self-inflicted wounds Wednesday at the Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Mich.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

ROCHESTER, Mich.—Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. Born in a South Carolina hotel ballroom on Aug. 13, it died on the campus of Oakland University on Nov. 9, with CNBC’s debate moderators unable to avert their eyes. The cause of death: self-inflicted injury, brought on by amnesia.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

The Perry campaign had always been sickly. But for a little while no one wanted to diagnose it. A Politico front-pager about whether Perry was “dumb”? Cheap “name-calling,” according to Fox News. The candidate calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme?” If you didn’t like that, you had a problem with straight talk and honesty and, probably, cojones. Reporters dutifully filed stories about Perry’s donor-friendly contracting, about the bogusness of his “Texas miracle.” The campaign pretended that the media didn’t exist.

It couldn’t last, because eventually, voters had to hear from Rick Perry. No amount of expectations-lowering guff—and Perry had exhausted the North American supply of it—could have saved him from what happened when he tried to name three abolishable Cabinet departments. He was repeating something he says at every major campaign stop, and yet he couldn’t remember it.

“It is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone,” he said. “Commerce, Education, and the—What's the third one there? Let's see.” After Ron Paul and moderator John Harwood failed to bail him out, he simply said, “Oops.” After the debate was over, Perry himself entered the media spin room for the first time. The rule about spin rooms: Front-runners don’t bother with them. In a panic, you forget rules like that.

“I tell you what,” said Perry to the gawking mob. “I named two more agencies of government than what the, uh, uh, current administration has talked about getting rid of.” He juiced this with a new, hideous talking point: “I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles.”

Reporters wouldn’t leave him alone, asking him again and again how he felt.

“I stepped in it, man!” said Perry. “Yeah, it was embarrassing! Of course it was!”

A few steps away, Mitt Romney’s spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom was looking for ways to shiv Perry without noticeable traces of blood. He found one.

“There’s nothing I could say that could darken the night Rick Perry had.”

True. All of those hours of fundraising, all of those one-engine flights to rural Iowa, all of that delicate flag placement at big speeches, and the fate of presidential campaigns comes down to stuff like this. Tim Pawlenty never recovered after he debuted the buzzword “Obamneycare,” then faced Mitt Romney in a debate and declined to use it. Perry was already perceived as a how’d-he-get-this-far bantamweight. He’ll never be perceived as anything else.

In a moment of pure media frenzy like this, in the hours before the Perry meltdown clip is repeated more times on cable news than footage of a cat playing a keyboard, we can forget that there’s a whole presidential campaign out there. Twenty-four hours ago, the press was distracted by the tribulations and incoherence of another man who won’t be president: Herman Cain. His problems ended (temporarily, pending the next accuser’s press conference) only 15 minutes into the CNBC debate. Maria Bartiromo tried to ask Cain about his unending sexual harassment scandal. The crowd of Republicans, diehards who’d had to work for their seats, booed her for her audacity.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.