Commentary: Rick Perry is no Ronald Reagan on the debate stage

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramOctober 12, 2011 

Rick Perry rode into this presidential race eight weeks ago looking like Ronald Reagan.

Instead, he's turned into Cosmo Kramer.

Awkward and often confused, he has become less of a participant in the Republican debates than a comic sidekick doing walk-ons, shouting about how we're "sittin' on a treasure-trove of energy!" and then grinning for applause.

Instead of riding the cheers from his early Draft Rick campaign, he has sunk into an occasional supporting role alongside the co-stars, establishment leading man Mitt Romney and good-guy foil Herman Cain.

Perry tangled his lines again Tuesday night, first missing his chance to upstage Romney on healthcare, then giving a mush-mouthed answer about his own plan.

If I understood Perry, his healthcare plan involves -- uh, jobs -- and energy independence -- and, uh, lawsuit reform -- and oh, yeah, reducing insurance costs.

After all, that's worked so well in Texas.

Not only is Perry no longer the marquee star, he's barely in the scene.

"I didn't see anything that would give voters a compelling reason to re-examine Perry," said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

"There were no 'wow' moments. He's just not as polished or as smooth as Romney. Every time they're onstage, that works to Perry's detriment."

After Perry said he has an economic plan coming, "but I'm not going to lay it out for you tonight," he was drowned out in an echo chamber of talk about "9-9-9," Cain's tag line for his plan.

"The focus on Cain emphasized his role as the economic conservative," Wilson said. "That's the role Perry wanted."

Yet Perry remains the top challenger, said Richard Murray, professor of political policy at the University of Houston.

"He's the only candidate who has the funding," Murray said.

"Cain has no personal money and shows little ability to raise it. So as we move into the primaries, Perry will remain the only realistic alternative."

A further Perry fade would give Romney the nomination, Murray said. But more debates won't help.

"With Gov. Perry, you want to get him in the deep weeds and he kind of disappears," Murray said.

"Cain can say '9-9-9.' Romney is a good debater."

This is no longer Perry's show.

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