Perry: Slow on His Feet

Written by David Frum on Tuesday September 13, 2011

Here's a sharp observation at National Journal about last night's GOP debate:

In the most pivotal moment of the debate, Romney laid a trap for Perry by asking if he was going to “retreat’’ from the idea that Social Security is an unconstitutional federal program that should be turned over to the states.

It was as if Romney had waved a red flag in front of the typically hard-charging Perry, who balked instead of lunging forward. First he mocked the idea that the New Deal was beyond reproach, but then he said “obviously we’re not going to take away’’ such an institution. “I think we ought to have a conversation.’’ Perry said.

Romney interrupted with perhaps his best line of the night. “We’re having that right now governor. We’re running for president."

We learn things from these debates, and one of them is: how does a candidate respond under pressure? What we've seen from Perry in two debates is (1) he gets testy and (2) he makes stupid mistakes.

Perry was supposed to carry the message: "I will save our cherished national institution, Social Security."

Romney pushed him to substitute the message: "I will save this unconstitutional program I hate." Good luck with that.

It was not only Romney who outmaneuvered Perry. Michele Bachmann(!) pushed Perry to his funniest blooper of the night: his angry insistence that he cannot be bought for $5,000. That's one of those denials that opens the way to more embarrassing questions: "How about $10,000?"

As a candidate, Perry's unnimble mental reflexes are a merely personal handicap. Should Perry reach the presidency, his lack of intellectual resource will have consequences for the nation.