Perry Steps In It With Big "Oops" at Debate

Perry Steps In It With Big "Oops" at Debate

By Scott Conroy - November 10, 2011

In a moment that will likely go down as one of the most damaging flubs in presidential campaign history, Rick Perry's already fading campaign was further wounded on Wednesday night when the Texas governor froze up on the debate stage in Rochester, Mich.

Perry was attempting to list three federal agencies that he would eliminate as president but could not remember the third -- no matter how hard he seemed to try.

"I will tell you, it's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the -- what's the third one there?" Perry said as laughter began to build in the audience.

After a quick moment of back-and-forth banter with Ron Paul, the mood on stage began to shift from lighthearted to uncomfortable when Perry continued to rack his brain, without effect, for the third agency.

Mitt Romney and a CNBC debate moderator tried to help, asking whether Perry was referring to the EPA.

"No, sir. We're talking about the agencies of government -- the EPA needs to be rebuilt. No doubt about that," Perry said.

Asked by a moderator whether he could name the third agency, Perry tried once again to find his footing. But it only got worse from there.

"The third agency of government, I would do away with the education, commerce, and let's see -- I can't," the Texas governor and onetime Republican front-runner said. "The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops."

And with that final "oops," the juggernaut that Perry's campaign had appeared to be when it launched seemed nothing but a distant memory.

Several minutes later, Perry finally said that he had been searching for the Department of Energy, but the damage had already stuck and defined a debate that was otherwise devoid of major fireworks.

It wasn't supposed to be like this for the Texas governor, who rose immediately to the top of the polls upon entering the race in August but then suffered a series of poor debate performances, culminating in Wednesday night's cringe-inducing showing.

Perry made no attempt to sugarcoat his latest performance, making a surprise personal appearance in the post-presidential debate spin room and telling reporters there, "I'm glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there."

Michele Bachmann told CNBC's post-debate panel of experts that she and the other candidates "all felt very bad for him."

With the dynamics of the Republican race still unsettled, Perry's campaign had been hoping for a strong performance Wednesday to help build momentum in conjunction with the television ads that it has begun running in early voting states.

But as clips of his blunder will play on television news stations and the Internet in the coming days, the viability of the campaign is now uncertain at best.

Wednesday night's debate was supposed to be largely about Herman Cain, as allegations of sexual harassment have dominated political headlines for more than a week.

Though Perry's gaffe will likely overshadow Cain's performance, the issue did come up in a dramatic moment when a debate moderator asked the former Godfather's Pizza CEO whether the American people could elect a president "if they feel there are character issues."

The question drew boos from the partisan audience, and Cain was quick to shoot down the premise.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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