It’s hard to believe that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would bug out of the debates, but that is what his campaign was hinting about yesterday. Politico reports: “Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the issue is using time wisely, and noted their campaign is not alone in that. ‘I think all the campaigns are expressing frustration right now,’ Miner told POLITICO. ‘We said we would do Michigan but the primaries are around the corner and you have to use your time accordingly.’ ”
I am not aware of any other candidate thinking of fleeing the chance for free airtime to sell himself or herself to the American people. Should Perry back out after a series of awful debate outings, the message would plainly be: This is too hard for me.
Perry is big on sport metaphors and has said his low standing in the polls won’t send him home at halftime. But if he absents himself from the debates, especially the foreign policy debate on Nov. 15, the unmistakable message is that he really isn’t ready for prime-time.
And then how would the general election go? Would he decide he is too busy to debate the president of the United States?
In many ways this is emblematic of the Perry campaign. They just had a big policy rollout, but that message has been trampled by bad poll numbers, the suggestion he doesn’t want to risk too many more debates, and the birther issue. The problem, as his supporters feared when he delivered a credible, if not awe-inspiring, economic speech is that he lacks the communication skills to sell it — and himself — to the voters.
Contrast that with candidates dying for media attention (e.g., Rick Santorum) and who thrive in the verbal jousting matches (e.g., Newt Gingrich). A core function of the president is to use the bully pulpit and the media to communicate to the American people, to inspire and persuade. The campaign is a breeze compared to the parade of press conferences and interviews once in office. Would Perry be able to get through those too?
Perry’s got a limited time to get his act together. In some national and state polls, he now trails Gingrich. Now there’s a man who can use a debate to his own benefit.