One is the loneliest number. Two can be as bad as one. And three, well … um … what was three again?
Three is hard. I’ll start by quoting the silence heard around the political world during Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican presidential debate. Here were Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s words in the middle of one of his answers: “I will tell you: It’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone: Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see. … OK. So Commerce, Education and the — … The third agency of government I would — I would do away with the Education, the … Commerce and — let’s see — I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Oops? Oops? Did he just say oops on camera?
That was his comeback. Perry completed this painful journey not by telling the audience that remembering the third point wasn’t as important as remembering his overall message. He didn’t tell the audience that forgetting his third point in a debate was not as bad as forgetting how to run the country or fix the economy. He simply said, “Oops.” And then the microphone went to one of his seven Republican rivals. Oops indeed.
This was seriously terrible. You might say that blunders happen in debates. After all, Perry is not the first, nor will he be the last, to have a mental lapse in a debate. Remember Jan Brewer’s Arizona gubernatorial debate last year? When she appeared to have lost her train of thought in her opening statement and for about 15 seconds could only smile and laugh nervously as cameras rolled? That was one of the worst moments ever in a debate, and she still won the election. So the question is: How much damage will Perry’s gaffe do?
It will do major damage. Here’s why.
First, I’ve been evaluating debates for 20 years, and can tell you — if you doubted it for a second — that Perry’s mental block was very, very bad. One reason is that the question he was asked at the time wasn’t even about cutting agencies. It was about how he could work with Democrats across the aisle. But Perry wanted to add some flair, so he looked at Ron Paul in order to brag about how he would cut three different agencies (although still not as many as Paul’s five) and then gave himself the self-induced wound.
What then made it worse was that Perry was asked twice if he could remember the third agency and he continued to draw a blank. Whatever credibility he had disappeared like his memory. It was a perfect example of a gotcha question, which everyone from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin complains about — except that nobody even asked it. Perry did the gotcha on himself.
Watch Rick Perry’s Campaign End Before Your Eyes