When word came that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had raised $17 million, pundits insisted that he had gotten new life. I didn’t buy it, and last night showed exactly why.

A Republican consultant e-mailed me this morning after Perry’s horrid debate performance: “I don’t know what he’ll do now — he can’t get up off the mat, and America doesn’t like that. If he’d had a bad couple weeks but came out shining last night, he’d have won their support. But to not be able to come back at all makes people just look the other way.”

Others are speculating whether Perry is effectively finished as a presidential contender. Byron York writes: “After two consecutive weak debate performances, Perry was under considerable pressure to do well on Tuesday. He didn’t. In fact, Perry was so underwhelming that the candidate himself began explaining away his performance just moments after the debate ended. ‘Debates are not my strong suit,’ he told a friendly crowd at a Dartmouth fraternity house not far from the debate hall.”

I have no earthly idea why Perry thought it a good idea to hang out at a Darmouth frat house after the debate. More important, how the heck is he supposed to go face-to-face with President Obama in the general election debates? Thankfully for the GOP, that possibility is increasingly remote.

Byron points to one especially cringe-worthy moment: “[U]nlike several other candidates, including front-runner Mitt Romney, Perry has not released a detailed economic plan. Asked about that at the last debate, on September 22, Perry promised to produce one. But on Tuesday night — at a session devoted exclusively to economic matters — he still didn’t have a plan. Instead, Perry said the first part of his program will be to unleash the American energy industry. As for the rest of it, Perry said, ‘Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks.’ ” I guess policy isn’t his strong suit either.

The fallacy of politics, as the punditocracy too often portrays it, is that money is the end-all and be-all of campaigns. Like early polls, pundits fondle the FEC reports, as if they were political Ouija boards. In truth, all you need is “enough” money to win an election. A billion dollars isn’t going to help Obama overcome 9 percent unemployment. Seventeen million can’t obscure the fact that Perry is not ready or able to put together a first-rate presidential campaign. What matters is the quality of the candidate and the ideas he offers.

A final note: Perry has hurt his own stature and sullied the Voter Values Summit by stubbornly refusing to repudiate blatant religious bigotry. He’s acting like a Texas governor, not a presidential candidate, by taking the “not my business” approach to Pastor Robert Jeffress. It is one of many episodes that gives the impression Perry is shrinking by the minute. He came in a brash, confident Texas governor and he is likely to exit the race soon a somewhat inept figure making you conclude that Texas must have been on automatic pilot for about 10 years.