Perry backing away from the debates?

posted at 4:45 pm on October 26, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Either this is the most awesome primary campaign move in recent memory, or an acknowledgment that we shouldn’t expect to see debates become Rick Perry’s strong suit in the near future.  I’m know which way I’m betting:

Rick Perry, who made clear during his Bill O’Reilly interview last night that he finds the debate formats geared toward promoting a fight, is going to the No. 9 one after that – but is a question mark for some of the glut of face-offs after that.

The Wall Street Journal also picked up on this statement:

Rick Perry saw his poll numbers swoon after a series of shaky debate performances in September. Now his campaign says the Texas governor may get a lot more selective, potentially skipping some of the jousting contests between now and when voting for the Republican presidential nomination starts in early January.

“We are going to evaluate each debate as it comes and take each one on its own merits,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner, adding that for now, Mr. Perry is confirmed only for the next GOP debate, set for Michigan Nov. 9th. At least five more debates are now scheduled between the Michigan contest and the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3rd.

The campaign argues that with less than 10 weeks to go before the first votes fly, the debates devour too much time for travel and preparation. “The primaries are right [around] the corner and there is simply more to do than there is time to do it,” Mr. Miner said.

Er … time management?  Are “the primaries are around the corner” by the time the Michigan debate concludes, as Miner says?  Not exactly; they’d only be slightly closer than the number of weeks Perry has been an official candidate in the race.   It could have been true had Reince Priebus not strong-armed Nevada into reversing itself and moving its primary to February 4th, allowing New Hampshire to go on January 10th and keeping Iowa’s caucuses in 2012.  However, the primaries now will be almost ten weeks after the ninth debate — and let’s not forget that Perry has only participated in four of the eight debates so far.

How many debates would Perry miss if he decided to take a pass on the rest?  There are two more the following week, one in the important primary state of South Carolina (November 12th) and another in Washington DC hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (November 15th).  Which of those two would Perry like to snub?  Don’t forget that the Heritage/AEI will focus exclusively on foreign policy, and will be broadcast by CNN.  If Perry doesn’t take part in that debate, what will that say about his readiness to discuss those issues?

It doesn’t get much better in December, where the GOP will have four debates.  The first is in Arizona on CNN (December 1st), but the next three are in … Iowa, which is where the primaries-around-the-corner start.  Does he blow off one or more of those debates?  If so, would anyone in Iowa take him seriously — and what exactly would Perry’s path to the nomination be if he comes in lower than, say, second place in Iowa?

Factor in his falling poll numbers, and a decision to back away from debates seems even more curious.  Perry needs some serious face time to re-energize his campaign, and he’s not going to get that by pulling a Jon Huntsman and staying off the stage.  If he wants to make a point about protesting the number of debates that have been scheduled, that might be worth protesting — except that he’s attended fewer debates than almost everyone else on stage at this point, and his campaign isn’t making that case, at least not at the moment.

This looks like a strategy designed to keep Perry from doing more damage to himself, and that won’t impress many primary voters.  In order to fight for conservative principles, one has to first show up to the fight.

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