It’s rare that a politician evokes pity, but in 55 seconds during Wednesday night’s presidential debate, Rick Perry managed it.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone, Commerce, Education and the, er, what’s the third one there? Letâ€™s see…” Mr Perry started to say, prompting suggestions from some of his rivals and giggles in the audience.
He looked helplessly toward the elderly Ron Paul, standing next to him on the stage, who added helpfully: â€śThe EPA?â€ť Mr. Perry replied: â€śEPA, there you go.â€ť
CNBC moderator John Harwood honed in and pressed Perry: “Seriously? Is EPA the one you were talking about?”
“No sir. No sir. We were talking about the, um, agencies of government,” Perry said. “The EPA needs to be rebuilt.” “But you can’t name the third one?” Harwood persisted.
“The third agency of government,” Perry said. “I would do away with the education, the um, Commerce, and let’s see. I can’t think of the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Some 15 minutes later, Mr Perry said: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for.”
â€śTo my memory, Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate,â€ť Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political expert, tweeted in the moments following the blunder.
â€śIs it possible that Perry’s campaign ended tonight? Sounds harsh but it was that bad.â€ť
Mr Perry’s on-stage freeze also benefited Herman Cain, who is neck and neck with Mr Romney in the polls but has faced a wave of allegations of sexual harassment over the previous 10 days. There were boos from the crowd when CNBC moderators asked him about the allegations.
“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations,â€ť he responded, to cheers. â€śAnd I value my character and my integrity more than anything else.â€ť
When Mr. Romney was then asked if he’d hire someone accused of such misdeeds, he deftly dodged the question — and was also cheered.
â€śHerman Cain is the person to respond to these accusations,â€ť he said. â€śHe just did. The people in this room and around the country can make their own determination.â€ť
Mr Cain did himself no favours by referring to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic former Speaker of the House of Representatives, as â€śPrincess Nancyâ€ť. He later indicated he regretted the quip, telling CNBC: â€śThat was a statement that I probably shouldnâ€™t have made, but I was trying to make a point.â€ť
After the debate, Mr. Cain was magnanimous when asked about Mr. Perry’s disastrous flub. â€śAmericans can be very forgiving,â€ť he said.
Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who has sunk in the polls, was equally kind. â€śIt was a tough moment,â€ť she said on CNBC. â€śWe all felt very bad for him.â€ť
After the debate, Mr Perry came into the press â€śspin roomâ€ť himself â€“ almost unprecedented for a top tier candidate â€“ to admit that he had made a huge mistake. “I’m glad I had my boots on tonight,” he said. “I stepped in it out there.”
He added: â€śI may have forgotten Energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles.” Asked if he felt embarrassed, he said: “I stepped in it, man. Yeah, it was embarrassing. Of course it was.”
Ray Sullivan, Mr Perryâ€™s spokesman, said that the moment was embarrassing but showed â€śthat Rick Perry is a human being and not a robotâ€ť and would put quickly put it behind him.
â€śThis was a stumble of style, not substance. We believe on the substance, we win.â€ť He added that â€śhe still named two more agencies to eliminate than this president”. [via The Telegraph, Huff Post and The Globe and Mail]