Confident and folksy, Perry has a talent for coming across as sincere, staying focused on his key themes, and answering the questions he wants to answer rather than the ones he’s been asked. He never, ever backs down: In four hours of debates spanning three different campaigns, all of which focused on knocking the incumbent — Perry — off balance, not once does he admit error, express regret, or acknowledge the merits of criticism.
But Perry’s greatest strength, his poised self-assurance, can also be his weakness. When he goes astray, it is by hamming it up, overdoing the cowboy act at the expense of specifics, and appearing arrogant and glib…
That 2010 debate — the first of two GOP primary debates featuring Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and tea party activist Debra Medina — was unquestionably the biggest debacle of Perry’s debating career. Practically strutting across the stage, grinning broadly and tweaking the moderators, he came across to many as gratingly unserious — a “jumpy, fidgety frat boy,” Medina said at the time.
Faced with unfriendly specifics from a moderator, Perry refused to acknowledge they were true and grew testy: “I don’t know how to explain this to you any simpler,” he growled. At another point, rather than acknowledge Hutchison’s critiques, he blustered, “Is it my time to ask a question now?”, erupting into an enormous grin, laughing and bobbing back and forth. Some commentators thought the fact that Perry’s condescension was aimed at two female opponents made it all the more damaging.