This morning’s media offensive against Rick Perry after his flub at last night’s debate was completely predictable. What ratings-conscious morning news show host would forgo a chance to grill the candidate whose 54-second stumble has already been dubbed one of the worst debate moments in modern primary history?
Certainly not Ann Curry, who asked Perry point-blank whether he plans to withdraw from the race. Not Christine Romans, who burdened Perry with the task of convincing viewers his mistake did not mark the end of his candidacy. Not Chris Wragge, who threw out every negative quote to surface about Perry’s “oops” moment. And not even George Stephanopoulos, who reminded Perry — as if he forgot — that the U.S. president has to be able to speak on the world stage.
What was less predictable, perhaps, was Perry’s response. He breezed by his brain freeze as though it were the first awkward pause in a series of brilliant debates. He doubled down on the message of his campaign. He invoked the fighting spirit of the Marine Corps, which was founded 236 years ago today. He spat out every bit of bait cast by those morning news anchors.
His one-word sentence to the Associated Press is representative: “This ain’t a day for quittin’.”
And at no point did he forget his point, which was, quite simply, that the country needs a leader not a slick debater. What’s sad is, it’s true — but repeating it won’t help Perry much now. Like it or not, in elections, rhetorical skills are often the perceived measure of intelligence and leadership ability — and voters have little patience for poor elocution. Anyone who wants to be president of the United States had better be prepared to wow a crowd with smoothly-strung sentences.
Still, I can’t resist giving this defense of Perry, the man (i.e. not Perry the presidential candidate): Like The Anchoress, I’ve blanked on the air before — and understand how it happens. Ironically enough, in my case, it was not that I was not thinking: It was that I was thinking too much. Heightened awareness of my surroundings, heightened concern for the way I’d be perceived, heightened desire to effectively convey my message all conspired against me — and I’m a person who usually performs better on an adrenaline rush. I’m also someone who’s been speaking in somewhat-pressured settings since I was 15 and who usually delights in talking to a crowd. Before I did it myself, I used to mock such mistakes in others. (Even after I’ve done it, I still can’t help laughing at this mother of all mistaken on-stage answers.) Now, I have a little more patience for imperfect delivery.
Eh, what more can I say? Perry’s blank-out was monstrously painful to watch — and he really doesn’t seem to be prepared to take the national stage. But his delivery doesn’t disqualify his ideas and not even a failed presidential candidacy disqualifies a person as a capable and knowledgeable leader. Else we’d be forced to say Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, among countless others who’ve lost presidential elections, lacked leadership ability, too.
Frankly, I’m inspired. Even if today is a day for the candidates to reevaluate their candidacies, even if today is a day for us to reevaluate our personal picks, even if today is a day to reexamine our priorities and principles and to remember why we fight for the causes we fight for, it ain’t a day for quittin’. No day is.
Update: I originally missed this Fox hit, but Steve Doocy was no softer on Perry than other morning show hosts: