By now it's pretty clear that Rick Perry had his worst debate performance yet. When Phil Klein concluded that Perry will have to step up his game, he was probably too polite to note that's what people were saying after Perry's first two debates, though at least back then there was some expectation or at least hope he would do so. Now it's pretty obvious that the game we saw all three times is the game he plays. Which doesn't necessarily mean he's done for.
Lost in all the piling on was the single most inarticulate reply he gave, this in reply to a question about how he'd react on learning at 3:00 in the morning that the Taliban had seized control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal:
PERRY: Well obviously, before you ever get to that point you have to build a relationship in that region. That's one of the things that this administration has not done. Yesterday, we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with -- and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country. So to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States.
The Pakistani country? As in "the Iraq" of Miss Teen South Carolina fame?
Yet Pakistan doesn't have to be the burial ground of presidential candidates. Recall George W. Bush's contretemps from November 1999 with Boston TV reporter Andy Hiller, who tried to nail him as an ignoramus on foreign policy for not knowing the names of "hot spot" leaders.
Here's the BBC's account of what it called the "crunch question":
"Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?"
Mr Bush needed a breather. "Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?"
Hiller: "No, it's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots, " the reporter tried to put his victim at ease.
"The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the sub-continent," the Republican candidate offered.
Good news, but not an answer, and the interviewer insisted: "Can you name him?"
"General. I can't name the general. General" was all Mr. Bush had to offer.
Of course, that general's name was Pervez Musharraf, and in due course Bush as president would get to know him well -- and to have the last word on him in his presidential memoirs. But that's another story.
The point to remember is that frontrunners have survived worse. And isn't it oddest that of all of Perry's ineptly articulated remarks last night he's been hit hardest for something he said with unmistaken clarity: "I don't think you have a heart."
Right there was the side of him that's helped him win 10 straight political races. People complain Perry could never win in a general race, but it sure seemed to me that in defending his views on the children of "illegal aliens" he was making sure he would find a way to attract a significant Hispanic vote, without which everyone knows no Republican can win the presidency. Surely he's in a better position to do so than a Republican rival who in anti-illegal harshness could give Tom Tancredo a run for his money these despite having happily employed illegal workers as gardeners on his estate while governor.
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