Rick Perry as Sarah Palin

at 01:51 PM ET, 09/23/2011

At Thursday’s debate, it was hard to watch Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s performance and not recall Sarah Palin.

It was Palin who, in 2008 as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, responded to questions about her foreign policy expertise with the idea that she understands international relations because Russia is close to her home state of Alaska, where she served as governor.

In similar fashion, Perry struggled in Thursday’s debate in his response to a question about what he would do in the event of that 3 a.m. phone call that has come to symbolize a candidate’s readiness to step into the commander-in-chief role.

If Perry received such a call stating that Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons, what would he do? We still don’t know. Perry offered a pretty nonsensical response about how the U.S. needs to do better on building an alliance with India.

“To have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States — for instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16s, we chose not to do that,” Perry managed. “The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, that we will be standing by there with them.”

Now just imagine that response being offered by Palin. Really sound it out. True, Perry’s response wasn’t quite as herky-jerky as Palin’s often are, but the substance of the response was very Palin-esque.

The fact that Perry’s delivery is somewhat better than Palin’s will save him some trouble — after all, the physical and rhythmic performance is often as important as the content of the responses in these debates, and it’s hard to see Perry’s response leading to the same kind of lampooning suffered by Palin on Saturday Night Live.

But Perry is now going to have to grapple with the very Palin-esque idea that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about on issues of foreign policy. And in fact, the issue had already been raised quite a bit even before Thursday’s debate.

Developing foreign policy chops as a governor takes time, and it’s pretty apparent that Perry had not banked on being a presidential candidate until very recently. As such, he’s operating at a deficit and will have a hard time making up for lost time. (Some are already asking whether he simply got into the race too late.)

The so-called “3 a.m.” attack didn’t sink President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary because he had already established himself as an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. Whatever his inexperience on foreign policy, he had already checked the biggest foreign policy box: being against the war in Iraq.

For Perry, that box remains blank.

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