After last night's debate in Oakland, Michigan, Mitt Romney's prospects for winning the Republican nomination have brightened considerably. Texas Governor Rick Perry who was to have been the second man in a two-man race with Romney stumbled badly in a debate where he had to make at least a respectable showing.
Talking to reporters, Perry conceded the extent of the disaster.“I’m glad I had my boots on tonight,” Perry said. “I stepped in it out there.”
When called upon to elaborate on how he would eliminate government waste Perry responded "It is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the, what is the third one there, let's see."
"The third agency of government I would do away with -- the Education, the Commerce and let's see ... I can't, the third one, I can't, sorry." Perry compounded a gaffe by adding the word oops not precisely the terminology that one would expect in a presidential debate.
It is difficult to see how Perry can recoup his fortunes. Most of us have found ourselves in a situation where we suddenly have a memory blackout but fortunately it does not occur on a live television broadcast. One has to go back to the 1976 presidential debates were President Gerald Ford was debating Jimmy Carter to witness a similar case of self-inflicted damage.
Ford said "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." The moderator, Max Frankel of the New York Times, jumped on the remark, "I'm sorry, what? ... did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it's a communist zone?"
But Ford compounded the mistake by insisting that Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia were free from Soviet interference. Ford had always had to live down the impression that he was likable but not too bright as per the devastating comments by Lyndon Johnson who said of Ford that he " is so dumb he can't walk and chew gum at the same time.... He's a nice fellow, but he spent too much time playing football without a helmet. Perry played quarterback with a football helmet but after last night's disaster he has hurt his image perhaps irretrievably.
The marginalization of Perry leaves the conservative wing of the GOP without a serious candidate. Herman Cain even in the eyes of his critics gave a spirited performance. He however does not have a surefire method to make the harassment charges go away even if he takes and passes a polygraph test with flying colors.
While conservative Republicans may appreciate his business experience and straight talking family values issues count seriously with the voters that Cain must recruit. Cain's admirers may be correct in labeling the media as hypocritical given the forgiving attitude towards Bill Clinton. Clinton was however representing a party that places less of an emphasis on these issues.
If Cain and Perry are eliminated from the equation this leaves us with former speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich can easily go one-to-one with Mitt Romney or Barack Obama in the debates. He unfortunately cannot appeal to the Republican morals voter and at age 73 he will enter a presidential race against Barack Obama older than John McCain. While age was not a liability for Ronald Reagan who was filmed splitting logs and riding horseback on his ranch the age factor was a liability for both Robert Dole in 1996 and McCain 2008.