Rick Perry scrambled Thursday to recover from a major gaffe during the latest GOP presidential debate, appearing on the morning television news shows, soliciting donations from supporters and agreeing to poke fun at himself alongside David Letterman on “The Late Show.”
The Texas governor rearranged his schedule as he sought to rescue his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, canceling a fundraiser in Tennessee so that he could stay in New York to appear on the TV networks and Thursday night’s Letterman show.
Interviewed on “Fox & Friends,” NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s ”Good Morning America” and CNN’s “American Morning,” Perry insisted that his inability to recall the name of one of the three federal agencies he had vowed to eliminate shows nothing more than that he is human.
“People make mistakes,” the embattled GOP presidential hopeful told NBC. “One error is not going to make or break a campaign. We’re going to continue talking about the challenges facing this country.”
But it remains far from clear whether Perry, already sinking in the polls, can regain support from Republican voters and campaign donors. His inability to remember the name of the Energy Department was all the more striking because eliminating that agency — along with the Education Department and Commerce Department — is a central part of the conservative dogma Perry has embraced. Perry, the governor of oil-producing Texas, has made energy issues the linchpin of his economic plan.
In a statement Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said he was standing by Perry despite the latest gaffe.
“Rick Perry continues to be the right person to defeat President Obama,” Jindal said. “Americans aren’t looking for a great debater. They want someone who knows how to deliver results — not a speech. We already have a President that gives good speeches, but what we need is economic growth and job creation, which Rick Perry can deliver.”
During the debate Wednesday night in suburban Detroit, Perry said he would eliminate “three agencies of government.”
“Commerce, Education and the — what's the third one there — let's see,” he said, as the audience began to laugh. Eventually, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney suggested the Environmental Protection Agency.
“EPA. There you go,” Perry said. But when pressed by moderator John Harwood on whether he really meant the EPA, Perry said he didn’t.
“I would do away with the Education, the Commerce and — let's see — I can't,” Perry said. “The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.”
Immediately after the debate, Perry told reporters, “I’m glad I had my boots on because I really stepped in it tonight.”
“We all felt very bad for him,” said Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), one of the GOP hopefuls who shared the stage.
From the moment Perry stumbled, pundits lit up the Internet with predictions that he had mortally wounded his campaign.
“Rick Perry just lost the debate. And the entire election,” tweeted Tim Albrecht, the top spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is unaligned in the GOP race. Albrecht, whose tweet was quoted by the Associated Press, was writing from his personal account.
“To my memory, Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate,” Larry Sabato, the political science professor at the University of Virginia, said on Twitter: Sabato also recalled a similar gaffe by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but he added that at the time, Reagan was a popular president running for reelection with a “roaring economy” as backdrop.
[A look at other great debate gaffes through history.]
Grinning and trying to make light of his stumble, Perry quipped Thursday morning that it is precisely because there are so many superfluous federal agencies that he couldn’t recall the name of the Energy Department.
“There were so many federal agencies that come to mind, that I want to get rid of, that the Energy Department would not come out,” he said on ABC.
“If anybody’s looking for the slickest politician or the smoothest debater, I readily admit I’m not that person,” he said.
Perry’s campaign e-mailed supporters asking them to take a poll showing which agencies they would like to eliminate, and urging them to “throw in a $5 donation for every agency you would like to forget.”
“We’ve all had human moments. President Obama is still trying to find all 57 states. Ronald Reagan got lost somewhere on the Pacific Highway in an answer to a debate question. Gerald Ford ate a tamale without removing the husk. And tonight Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate,” the e-mail said.
“Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies.”
Perry, meanwhile, promised to be ready for the next debate, Saturday in South Carolina, which will focus on foreign policy.
He gamely offered some advice to the writers of “Saturday Night Live,” who have skewered his past debate performances and would be hard-pressed not to poke fun at his latest gaffe. “I hope they get the agencies right,” he said.
“The Late Show with David Letterman” announced that Perry would appear on the show Thursday night with Letterman to deliver the popular “Top Ten.” On “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, Perry, a former Air Force pilot, said he was definitely not considering getting out of the presidential race.
“You know what today is? It’s the 236th anniversary, I believe, of the Marine Corps,” Perry said.
“If there was a day to quit, this isn’t it.”
Perry also made that point in an interview Thursday morning with the Associated Press. “Oh, shoot, no,” he replied when asked about getting out of the race. “This ain’t a day for quitting nothing.”
"The president of the United States said there were 57 states one time,” Perry told AP. “Everybody makes mistakes.” He referred to a May 2008 campaign speech in Oregon in which Barack Obama, trying to make the point that he had visited all but three states, said he had “now been in 57 states,” apparently saying fifty when he meant forty.
Perry insisted in the AP interview that he is “absolutely” more qualified to be president than Romney. He cited his “almost 11 years of chief executive experience of an entity a lot bigger than anything that he ever ran.”
Staff writers William Branigin, Amy Gardner and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.
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