Rick Perry is looking wobbly. But he has been politically staggered before and recovered to win the fight. If he falters in his current effort, it will be the first time in his 26-year career of public service.
Analysts are busy writing obituaries for Perry's presidential aspirations and there are many of us who would like to attend that funeral. But his current predicament is only a transitory moment in the GOP primary. Herman Cain's Florida success has Republican Primary voters and big campaign donors wondering if Perry is good for the long, hard haul that is a run for the White House.
But what are their other choices?
Perry's bumpy performance in the debates has prompted these reconsiderations. Media trainers have taught him how to "bridge" away from questions and talk about whatever he wants but when he ignored the query about Pakistan and started rambling about selling planes to India he looked foolish. When he tried to describe the various versions of Mitt Romney he sounded a bit like George W. Bush struggling to recite the aphorism about not getting fooled again. And then Perry told his base supporters they didn't have a heart. But they aren't seeking either a legal separation or a divorce. His voters are just upset after a bit of a lover's quarrel.
They won't hook up with either Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann because neither of them have electability. And when those two candidates drop out of the race, their supporters will be left choosing between Perry, Romney, Cain, and maybe Huntsman. Cain's unfettered rhetoric offers a grand appeal and his 999 tax plan is simple enough for a broad group of voters to understand and embrace, and like Romney he has had great success in business. But he is new to politics on this scale and doubts about his electability will persist.
Which, basically, leaves Romney.
And the conservative wing of the GOP cannot forgive Romney's statewide health care plan in Massachusetts, and his constantly evolving positions on the Tea Party and evangelical issues like abortion, gay marriage, and global warming. Romney brings a disturbing level of rational thought to those topics and the right wing GOP base is not interested in listening. It already knows what it thinks. The primary voters re-thinking their Perry support after the debates and Florida aren't re-thinking what they already think about Mitt Romney.
A new CNN poll taken after the Cain mutiny in the Florida Straw Poll and subsequent to Perry's amateurish performance in the FOX News/Google debate shows Perry still with a comfortable 7-point lead over Romney. Everyone else is below 10 percent but the Bachmann and Paul vote together totals around 16 percent. As their campaigns fade and they are forced to confront reality, where, exactly, can their voters be expected to land?
Not in Romney's camp.
Perry's support will return. Straw polls and debates don't decide nominations and are only a small piece of what picks a president. George H. W. Bush was so bad in debates with Michael Dukakis that his lack of linguist skills was turned into a Saturday Night Live skit and everyone remembers how Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas stuck a shiv in Dan Quayle for comparing himself to John F. Kennedy. But nobody remembers a Dukakis-Bentsen administration.
The only place Rick Perry is going is further out in front of the GOP pack.
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