Rick Perry, who bounded onto the national stage with a Texas swagger, strident talk of bulldozing Washington and rooting out Ponzi schemes, got something last night that he probably never imagined he would get — pity from Michele Bachmann.
In a moment that will undoubtedly become one of the most watched and discussed clips of any presidential campaign, Perry froze on stage, for what seemed like minutes on end, grasping for an answer he should have known, but simply was not there.
To television viewers it must have looked like some sort of cable hiccup, an out-of-place-moment in a format where over-prepped candidates, pundits, anchors and reporters fill the time with handy quips and talking points.
This was the moment (video after the jump) during CNBC’s Wednesday night debate:
“And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone,” he said, beginning a riff that might have brought applause and had a whiff of Texas boldness. “Commerce, Education, and the -- what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”
And later, after prevailing on Ron Paul to help him out, he finally gave up on remembering saying, “Commerce and, let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops,”
Bachmann, who had gone after Perry in previous debates, had this to say about her rival:
“Well, it was a tough moment, I think all of us recognize that that was something that none of us would want to go through,” Bachmann said. “And it was very difficult and we all felt very bad for him.”
So what now for Perry, the front-runner, turned Saturday Night Live staple?
Even after he stumbled in previous debates, unable to deliver an attack on Romney and seeming to disappear at times, few were ready to discount his candidacy because of his strong fundraising numbers — he reported $15 million cash for the third quarter.
Yet, now, some Republicans suggest that Perry’s money-edge might be at risk.
“I think he’s going to have a hard time bringing on new supporters moving forward,” said Fergus Cullen, former head of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “For that uncommitted elected official, that bundler, that $1,000 donor he needs to move up to maxing out — this may have been Perry’s last chance.”
And other Republicans suggested that Perry’s memory lapse underscored what had been an underlying worry about the Texas governor since he declared his candidacy in August.
“For the first time in this race he looked comfortable and confident in giving answers, but none of that will be remembered. Instead we will remember him searching for words and relying on Ron Paul to bail him out,” said Craig Robinson, a conservative blogger who runs the site Iowa Republican.“The incident is deadly for Perry because it reaffirms people’s fear that he lacks the intellectual capacity necessary to be president of the United States,”
Perry, who has poked fun at his debating skills and intellect, said he was embarrassed by his performance, and that he “stepped in it.”
And a top aide called it a “stumble of style, not substance.”
But others offered a dimmer view, suggesting that Perry has dealt a fatal blow to his campaign.
“He’s finished,” said Mark McKinnon, a GOP strategist. “When they start laughing at you, there is no return.”
Herman Cain, who has faced and denied allegations that he sexually harassed four women, said that counting Perry out is premature.
“The American people can be very forgiving.”
Still, some Republicans say the bar for Perry going forward is much higher.
“He has to knock it out of the park at every single debate or else it’s lights out,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist. “You have to be good at talking if you are the president of the United States of America. You just have to be.”