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I like Perry. But...

November 29. 2011 1:21PM

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is campaigning in New Hampshire today, which gives cause for some reflections on his candidacy.

When Perry was considering whether to enter the race, I hoped he would. I thought the race could benefit from a strong, conservative (not to mention Southern) voice. Perry has an impressive record in Texas, and even if a lot of the job-creation numbers can be attributed to him simply not screwing up policies he inherited, that's still a credit to him.

He entered the race in third place, rose fairly quickly to 2nd, then shot to first by mid-August. A lot of conservatives had a generally favorable view of him, and there was hope that he would be a white knight in a western saddle. Then, the debates happened.

He did more than misspeak. He did more than recklessly attack his own base and generally act like the class bully assigned to spend study hall with the chess club. He did more than forget his talking points and display an uncomfortable lack of knowledge of important topics. He simply suffocated.

With one disastrous performance after another, he proved that he did not belong on the stage. Perry and his defenders dismiss this as inconsequential. Debates are nothing but fancy talk, and it's on-the-job performance that matters, they say. In truth, debates are on-the-job performance for presidential candidates. They help reveal whether candidates can think on their feet; whether they have general, working knowledge of the affairs of state; and whether they have less tangible "leadership" qualities so many voters look for.

Perry can work a room beautifully, and he has good instincts on federalism and the proper size and scope of the federal government. His line about making Washington less consequential in Americans' lives was simple and beautiful. But he has shown in the last five months that he is woefully unprepared to run for president. That's not just my assessment, but the assessment of most Republican and Republican-leaning voters. He's dropped 20 points in the national polls in two months. He's at 2 percent in the latest New Hampshire poll and 4 percent in the latest South Carolina poll.

In my estimation, that drop is because Republican voters have concluded (at least for now) that as good a conservative as he might be, he just can't perform at the national level. Had he entered the race much earlier and had time to better prepare, maybe things would be different now. But he didn't, and Republican voters nationwide saw Rick Perry Raw. Unfortunately for Perry, it wasn't as good as advertised.

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