Rick Perry launches comeback campaign after major ‘oops’ in Republican debate

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS - Republican presidential candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry, gestures while answering a question at the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Michigan, November 9, 2011.

Rick Perry was the talk of the political world on Thursday after committing an epic debate goof during Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican presidential debate in Michigan. Perry forgot the name of the third federal department he would eliminate as president.

See video of the embarrassing exchange here and read The Fix’s Rachel Weiner on other bad moments in presidential debate history:

Video

Republican presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry had an 'oops' moment at the GOP debate in Detroit Wednesday when he couldn't remember one of the three government agencies he plans to cut. (Nov. 9)

Republican presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry had an 'oops' moment at the GOP debate in Detroit Wednesday when he couldn't remember one of the three government agencies he plans to cut. (Nov. 9)

Gallery

* 1976 presidential debate: President Gerald Ford declared that Poland was “independent and autonomous” from the U.S.S.R. When pressed, instead of correcting himself, Ford declared, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

* 1992 vice-presidential debate: Admiral James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot’s running mate, became defined by his opening words in the debate: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Most political pundits declared Perry toast after the exchange. The Fix’s Chris Cillizza named Perry twice in his Winners and Losers column:

LOSERS

* Rick Perry: The 43-second-stumble that was Perry’s attempt to name the three federal agencies he would eliminate as president will go into presidential debate folklore as one one of the most awkward moments ever. It’s hard to overemphasize just how damaging this was for Perry. While the moment itself was awkward enough — the Fix felt physically uncomfortable for at least the last half of it — it also played into an existing concern that Republican activists, voters and donors had about whether Perry was ready for primetime. The answer, after tonight, seems to be a resounding “no”.

And Washington Post Chief Political Correspondent Dan Balz said in his debate analysis that Perry’s stumble only made GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney look stronger:

With fewer than 60 days until the Iowa caucuses, the struggle to become the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney is now the central dynamic of the Republican presidential campaign. Wednesday night’s debate in Michigan did little to clarify who will ultimately emerge to challenge the former Massachusetts governor, but it may have shown who will not.

But the morning after the big gaffe, Perry vowed to fight on. Post writer Debbie Wilgoren notes the Texas governor’s appearances on the morning talk shows and will tackle David Letterman on Thursday night.

Rick Perry scrambled Thursday to recover from a major gaffe during the latest GOP presidential debate, appearing on the major morning television 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.

As for the federal departments that Perry singled out for elimination in the debate Wednesday night — he remembered Commerce and Education, but forgot Energy — the Federal Eye’s Ed O’Keefe went in search of their reaction.

“We don’t watch the debates. We’re working,” Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said in an e-mail.

In “The Big Oops,” Slate’s David Weigel pretty much called the time of death on Perry’s presidential aspirations.

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.

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.

However, Democratic strategist Carter Eskew has some advice for Perry on how he could recover.

So what can a candidate do to recover? Well, Perry is trying to follow the well-worn trail blazed by Reagan and Clinton: shine a light on your problem. Embrace it, move into popular culture as much as possible, where this stuff really lives. (Particularly damaging for Perry is that last night’s video will be the way most people are introduced to him, and, perhaps, say good-bye.) Clinton did this brilliantly with an appearance on Johnny Carson, which in those days was rarely done by politicians, and people got to see a humble, charming and funny side to him.

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