Rick Perry's underwhelming debates: Do they matter?
The news wasn't so good for the Republican presidential candidate who occupies the governor's office down there in Texas.
With their space-age podiums, cheering (or booing) audiences and their gotcha questions from media folks with their own makeup assistants, debates realistically have nothing to do with anything any president of any party would ever face in the Oval Office.
Debates do, however, have everything to do with how American voters perceive a candidate for president. How informed, well-spoken, straightforward, candid, quick, attentive do they look?
The Texas governor had suffered through two debate performances that could charitably be described as mediocre. He hardly looked presidential on the stage or up to the executive expectations that had pushed him to the front of the pack in polls.
Was this the end of his short presidential campaign? Or the end of the beginning in a very long presidential campaign for the White House?
No, this isn't the story of Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which turns 45 days old today.
This is a cautionary tale about reading too much into the early debate showings of any party's candidates, no matter how good or bad. Our esteemed and shall we say very veteran colleague Mark Barabak, calls our attention to a news story written almost 12 years ago, by him, as a matter of fact:
After his less-than-commanding performance in two presidential debates, George W. Bush faces a tougher race than expected amid growing signs of Republican discontent--including a new poll that shows major slippage in the key primary state of New Hampshire.
As it turned out, of course, John McCain did stay ahead of Bush in New Hampshire that cycle and whomped him good on primary day by about 15 points. The next morning, with aides vowing to get serious, the Bush campaign moved on to South Carolina, where the Texan won.
And the rest, as they say, is history that Barack Obama reminds us all about every few hours.
These campaigns are long and grueling, as they should be to determine the minds and mettle of the wannabes. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy on Jan. 3 of that 1960 election year. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama announced in February, 21 months before the election.
Just as the substantial early TV audiences watch and study the 2011 debates, so do the candidates and their advisors. Besides the content, they're advised on how not to look bored, how and when to move a hand, when to point, how one particular expression dangerously resembles a sneer. (Remember Al Gore's infamous sighs from 2000?)
Watch Romney. This is his second rodeo. He's always paying attention to the others, often graciously grants part of their point and then moves to drive his home. Another respected colleague, Robin Abcarian, examined Perry's studied motions apparently mimicking Reaganesque movements.
Who's got a big enough DVR memory? But if anyone compared these early Republican debates to ones coming next winter, they'd see radically improved performances by the surviving candidates.
Photo: Mike Carlson / Associated Press (Romney and Perry joust in Sept. 12 debate); Tannen Maury / AFP (Bush and Gore debate, Oct. 18, 2000).