The Republican Governor of Texas forgot that he wants to abolish the Department of Energy that enriches his political backers. A year before the elections – the only Republicans still standing up are Cain, Romney and Gingrich. To us, watching the Guardian, a Cain-Gingrich ticket seems to be shaping up.
The Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Michigan, had been predicted to be dominated by the sexual allegations against one of his rivals, Herman Cain. Instead Cain escaped unscathed and all the focus was on Perry’s gaffe.
Perry’s moment of embarrassment came when he was asked about one of the main planks of his policy for cutting federal spending, the elimination of three departments.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one, there? Let’s see.” He went on to say: “The third one. I can’t.” He made it worse by adding: “Oops.”
Fifteen minutes later he attempted to undo the damage, saying: “By the way that was the department of energy I was reaching for a while ago.” But it was too late.
Although he has millions of dollars in campaign funds accumulated it will be hard for him to recover. A Perry donor sent a tweet to the Washington Post: “Perry campaign is over. Time to go home.”
Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, tweeted too almost immediately on seeing Perry stumble. “To my memory Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary.”
Perry’s brain freeze, reminiscent of some of the awkwardness associated with George Bush, was shown live on television nationwide and will be shown repeatedly over the next few days.
He was already struggling in the polls, having dropped from frontrunner status to single-digit figures. He alienated many Republicans when he described as heartless anyone who did not agree with his relatively liberal approach to the children of illegal immigrants.
He had been talking before this debate about pulling out of future ones, an acknowledgment that he is a poor performer.
Cain, asked afterwards if Perry was finished, was charitable. “I would not say that. The American people can be very forgiving,” he told NBC, which hosted the debate.
Cain acknowledged the last 10 days had been rough as he faced allegations from four women of sexual harassment. Although the debate bad been billed as primarily about economics, one of the journalists on the panel asked him about the allegations.
The mainly Republican audience booed the journalist for raising the issue and applauded Cain when he complained of being tried in the court of public opinion.
There were further boos from the audience when the journalist asked Mitt Romney, the former government of Massachusetts, about the allegations. He sidestepped the question, to applause from the audience.
Romney gave another confident, calm performance that will have cemented his frontrunner status. With Cain facing the sex allegations and Perry’s campaign in deep trouble Romney’s chances of securing the nomination increased on Wednesday night.
Although there is resistance to him among right wingers, he is doing much better and is more relaxed than he was in 2008 when he lost out in the race for the nomination to John McCain.
The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at present in third place in the polls and could face scrutiny over his role as a consultant to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the organisations that provided the mortgages to those with poor credit ratings, precipitating the economic slump.
The organisations hired consultants and lobbyists to avoid federal regulation.
During the debate Gingrich claimed he had warned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against giving out such mortgages. He received $300,000 in 2006 for his consultancy role.
The other candidates on the stage failed to make any significant impression.