The candidates are already preparing for the next GOP 2012 debate next week. My question is: does Rick Perry have any gear other than attack?

After all, not only did he attack Mitt Romney, at the last debate, which made sense (even though I thought he’d be better off going positive), but he also fired back at Ron Paul, even during the commercial break, and also hit back against the Republican who has most prominently opposed him over the last month: Karl Rove.

Or, as GOP consultant Alex Castellanos put it: “Perry has not won elections in Texas because he is loved. He has won because he sticks a fork in his opponent’s eyeballs.”

There’s nothing at all wrong with having a reputation for hitting hard. However, if I were advising one of his main opponent, Mitt Romney, I’d start trying to test Perry to see just how far he takes it. Can he be baited? If so, his aggressiveness might be very easily turned against him. That is, at some point, an attack-everything candidate isn’t really aggressive, but recklessly reactive.

Romney is already trying to raise questions about Perry’s electability in a general election to damage him among primary voters and Republican actors, and Perry’s temperament is a nice second front for that attack line, in addition to questions about Perry’s ideological extremism. When Perry falsely repeated at the debate that he believes Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” Romney’s team pounced, pointing to it as proof that he can never win a general election.

Of course, it’s important as always to point out that debate performances and temperament aren only pieces of a larger nomination puzzle. But you can be sure that GOP party actors are watching Perry carefully to decide whether he’s a safe electoral bet, and you can expect Romney to do everything he can to use Perry’s outbursts to undermine confidence in his electability.