It should have been Texas Gov. Perry’s first step back in a long climb up from political oblivion. But instead of the tax and spending plan the day will go down in political history as “Remember when Perry blew himself up on CNBC?” It’ll be a consolation to every political consultant that ultimately races are about the candidates. No amount of staff work and no amount of money can compensate for a candidate with fatal flaws.

The image of today will remain long after people forget whether an optional flat tax was a plus or a minus will be this:

Conservative reaction was swift and fierce. David Freddoso spoke for many in his post:

When I originally promoted The Case Against Barack Obama in 2008, I was advised never to be afraid about calling crazy “crazy” to its face. I have to say, when you’re on a call-in radio show talking about Obama, and a caller starts spouting nonsense about how Obama is a Muslim from Kenya, it’s quite tempting to pander to the crowd. But if you do, you lose all of your credibility. So I promised from the start never to beat around the bush with birthers.

I was just selling a book. Rick Perry is running to lead the free world. For someone in his position to keep this alive is simply disgraceful. I think it is even more serious than President Obama’s pandering to the Occupy protestors. I’m sure there will be some parsing of Perry’s words, but I don’t see at the moment how this isn’t disqualifying for the presidency.

A parade of impressive governors stepped forward to try to pull the party back from the brink.

We’ve come to a point in the presidential race where Newt Gingrich may be the candidate with relatively little baggage compared to his loonier competitors. While Perry was rendering himself a clown, Herman Cain jumped the shark with a bizarre ad featuring his smoking campaign manager. Moreover, the reality of Cain’s unpreparedness may begin to seep in. Jeff Anderson writes:

More fundamentally, the problem with Cain’s campaign, in its current composition, is that it’s defying his own wise axioms. Cain says his success proves that politics is mostly about messaging. But, at least over the past week, it’s his messaging that has been the problem. He says we need more clarity in our politics and laws. But his recent answers on abortion could hardly have been less clear. (In that respect, this exchange, from a week earlier, is probably even worse.) He says it’s important to surround himself with the right people. But he hasn’t surrounded himself with very many people at all — and with no one who is particularly well known in national political or policy circles.

Most of all, he says it’s important to ask the right question. But he doesn’t seem to have asked himself the crucial question: Is he really running for president? Or is he merely running to have a good time, sell a few books, get a primetime speaking slot at the convention, and maybe make a play for the vice presidency? Right now, it seems like the latter.

Are Cain and Perry in some parallel political universe to compete for the “least serious” person in the race?

The telltale political sign of the day was the Romney campaign’s silence on Perry’s speech. Nary a peep. And why should the Romney team say anything substantive about a speech and a plan that are now essentially beside the point? It’s not relevant whether Perry has a flat tax or an optional flat tax. What is key is Perry’s own character and behavior. There’s no political guru who’s going to fix that.

But Romney had his own problem today. He ventured to Ohio and stopped by a callbank for Gov. John Kasich’s favored referendum. CNN reported: “Romney expressed generic support for Kasich’s efforts to curtail union rights, but he would not say whether he supports or opposes the specific measures. ‘I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,’ Romney said, only after repeated questions from reporters. ‘Those are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to rein in the scale of government. I am not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives. But I am certainly supportive of the Republican Party’s efforts here.’”

An Ohio Republican emailed me, irate. He said that this was “amateurish on so many levels.” He told me that “anyone who sets foot in Ohio over the next 3 weeks better know that they’re going to get asked about issue 2 (let alone anyone who sets foot in an f***ing issue 2 call center), and they better have a good answer ready.” He predicted: “This is an opportunity for one of the other candidates to step forward and say this is an issue important to conservatives who support smaller gov’t, lower taxes, and you can bet your ass that one (or several) of them will be here within a week announcing their support for the measure.” The Romney camp did not respond to repeated requests for comments. Perhaps they calculate they can sit back and watch others implode.

The only Republicans who sounded presidential today aren’t running — Jeb Bush, and Govs. Terry Branstad and Bob McDonnell. Perhaps they should reconsider. It was not a day to be proud of the GOP field.