The reaction today to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s comments about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (that it would get “ugly” if he came to Texas and that QE 3 was “treasonous in [Perry’s] opinion”) is predictable.

Hysterics on the left say Perry was actually threatening violence. Ostriches on the right say that’s it’s all media bias because, after all, Vice President Joe Biden allegedly called Republicans “terrorists.” The hard right criticizes mainstream Republicans for “falling into the MSM’s trap”(because how a candidate is portrayed and perceived in the media is entirely irrelevant to his electability?) Anyone who has VP aspirations for 2012 on the Republican side goes mute.

As of this writing, Perry hasn’t publicly commented on his remarks. An aide, Ray Sullivan, is quoted as saying, “He is passionate about getting federal finances under control. They shouldn’t print more money, they should cut spending and move much more rapidly to a balanced budget.” No whiff of regret. This of course won’t be the end of it.

But this sort of thing, which snooty commentators will deride as irrelevant, are a lot more important than much of what else happens. What do candidates say and do in unscripted moments? Do they have a sense of how they sound to those not already sold on their candidacy? And most important, do they have the gravitas factor, the aura that you could imagine this person in the White House making critical decisions and engaging with domestic and foreign critics?

Any challenger to a sitting president has a high bar to overcome. No matter how unpopular the president or how badly his policies have turned out, he is still the president. The contender (as Ronald Reagan did in 1980 and Bill Clinton did in 1992) needs to be able to survive a side-by-side comparison.

The great hope for many conservatives was that they could find a grown-up figure with solid conservative credentials. This will be one data point (along with how Perry reacts) in their evaluation of Perry.

The left should stop hyperventilating, but conservatives should get a clue. This stuff matters.