Rick Perry's really bad weekend

Or: How the guy who was supposed to be his party's savior got humiliated by ... Herman Cain

Topics: 2012 Elections,

Rick Perry's really bad weekendRepublican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Credit: AP)

Rick Perry ended last week with conservative leaders and activsts openly mocking his performance in a debate and expressing serious doubts about his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

And the bleeding didn’t stop over the weekend.

On Saturday, Perry was trounced in the “Presidency 5″ straw poll in Orlando … by Herman Cain. Yes, it’s easy to make too much of straw polls, but there seems to be a clear cause-and-effect relationship between Perry’s miserable debate showing on Thursday night and the Orlando result on Saturday.

After all, Perry’s campaign had invested considerable resources in the straw poll, courting delegates with robocalls and organizing an elaborate breakfast Saturday morning, at which the candidate spoke. This was an event he very much wanted to win, and it’s also one that he should have won, given that his main rival, Mitt Romney, did not contest it. The promise of Perry’s candidacy was that he’d energize and unify the party’s activist base, voters who had been searching for a savior — and who are most likely to show up at straw polls. As of the middle of last week, it was widely assumed that Perry would win the Romney-less P5 event with ease.

Instead, Cain did, capturing 37 percent to Perry’s 15 and Romney’s 14. It helped that Cain  addressed the convention hall personally (Perry skipped town after his breakfast), but it seems the GOP activists’ sudden interest in him was a product of their disappointment in Perry. As the St. Petersburg Times’ Adam Smith explained:

Throughout the Orange County Convention Center, formerly enthusiastic Perry supporters backed away, saying his debate performance left them uneasy about his ability to take on the president. While debates are dominated by talking points and rehearsed one-liners, they’ve also been drawing big ratings. And in Perry’s case, Thursday’s debate proved how they can make or break a campaign.

Romney, much more than Perry, can afford to fare poorly in straw polls. If conservative activists flock to Romney, it will be late in the process and with reluctance — only after they’ve concluded that there’s no white knight to save them and that at least Romney is well-positioned to defeat President Obama. But Perry is supposed to be the guy the base wants to support. Getting massacred in a straw poll by a second-tier candidate is a clear sign of trouble for him.

So is the latest uptick in Chris Christie chatter, which featured prominently on the Sunday political shows. A Wall Street Journal story that was published online late Sunday said that “a determined cadre of Republican donors” — big fish from the Northeast and West Coast, apparently — is pushing hard to convince the New Jersey governor to enter the GOP race. Christie is actually scheduled to deliver a speech at the Reagan Library in California this week, although there’s still no sign he’s reconsidering his longstanding refusal to run.

But the simple fact that so many Republicans are at this late date pleading with a second-year governor to come to their rescue is damning to the entire GOP field — but to Perry in particular. Again, it reflects his failure, so far at least, to live up to the promise of his candidacy, which was to unite both the party’s base and its more pragmatic, November-minded elites. But Perry’s dismal debate performances and overheated campaign trail antics have raised serious concerns among those elites about his fitness to represent their party in a national election.

The Christie talk even made its way onto the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live,” which presented a mock Republican debate in which Perry was portrayed by Alec Baldwin as sleepy, gaffe-prone, and incapable of formulating coherent sentences. The skit ended with the moderator announcing, “As a reminder to Chris Christie, it’s wide open, buddy.”

It wouldn’t seem so wide open if Perry hadn’t revealed himself to be such a flawed candidate these past six weeks. Now his task is more complicated than it was when he entered the race. Back then, he was greeted by a base that was desperate for a “pure” alternative and with party elites who would like to give the base what it wants, so long as what the base wants is electable. But now the base has real doubts about his ideological purity, particularly on immigration, and his basic competence as a candidate. And there are polls showing him faring markedly worse against Obama than Romney.

If there’s a silver lining for Perry in all of this, it may be that the bar has been lowered for him  going forward. Which means that a decent performance in the next debate (on October 11) could potentially have an inflated impact. Something tells me he’ll be doing a lot of rehearsing between now and then.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>