We're going to be seeing a lot of this over the next few days at least, and maybe more depending on the Perry campaign's capacity for damage control. I would not be surprised if this proved to be the decisive stroke ending Perry's status as a legitimate contender.
And, in a way, that makes me sad.
I am unsurprisingly no fan of Rick Perry. I can't decide if a Perry presidency or a Cain one is the worst case scenario, but either case would be a child in the driver's seat. It would be a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Nevertheless, this "gaffe" says nothing. Rick Perry is on national TV, being asked a direct, specific question by the moderator while standing next a line of his adversaries. He was the frontrunner only a couple of weeks ago, and has been watching his numbers decline, perhaps beyond hope, only a scant few months before the first primaries. His other debate performances have been widely panned, and this is one of his last shots to turn his fortunes around before it's too late. It's the eleventh hour for all the candidates, but for Perry most of all.
It's hard to imagine the amount of pressure he's under in this clip, and it's no surprise that someone under that much pressure would lose their train of thought, and fail to recover in the ensuing moment of panic he must have experienced, as well as he did at hiding it.
The worst part of this episode for him is that a "brain fart" like this hurts a guy like Perry particularly hard. It fits the narrative that he's dim, that he doesn't really have a command of policy. Mitt Romney? Hilary Clinton? If they'd had such a moment, we might get a laugh out of it, but there'd be no "story" here because nobody disputes their intellect.
For all we know, they may have! We just don't remember because it wouldn't have been meaningful, just more noise.
As it happens, I believe the larger narrative about Perry. He is dim by presidential standards. He doesn't have a command of policy. This moment, however, is not proof of that, and it's sad that this is what people will point to, rather than, say, Perry blithely stating that he'd dismantle a number of federal departments that have functions even conservatives would find important if they were better informed.
It was no problem when he was proud of having executed innocent people. His birther-curious moments haven't hampered him in the slightest. His asinine, baldly plutocratic tax plan seems not to have sent much heat his way. Losing his train of thought, however, well that's a killer in the era of politics as infotainment.
UPDATE: You want a gaffe? Here's one from tonight's debate: Rick Perry ends one of his answers that stating emphatically, "If you are too big to fail, you are too big." Now THAT, my friends, is interesting. I'm pretty sure I've heard that somewhere.
This whole speech from Bernie Sanders, the only actual, self-identified socialist in the United States Senate, in 2008 is a doozy, but the important part starts around 2:50:
If a company is too big to fail, it's too big to exist.
Think I'm just playing gotcha with a random quote from someone on the opposite side? Well, he's even submitted a bill to Congress under the same name.
So if Perry are Sanders are expressing the same sentiment, how are they really different? Perry would say that Sanders wants massive government intervention while he'd rather just watch them fail. The issue of Perry's veiled support of TARP at the time notwithstanding, there was a consensus among economists that allowing the banks to fail would have plunged us into depression. Was his advice really to just bet with a losing hand and hope everything works out for the best?