Rick Perry's Damage Control: Turn the Gaffe into Laughs
By YUVAL ROSENBERG,
Posted: November 10, 2011
This story was updated at 12:25 a.m. Friday.
Can Rick Perry save his presidential campaign by playing his gaffe for laughs?
The Texas governor and GOP candidate is in full damage-control mode, trying to keep his presidential hopes alive after his memorable 53-second memory lapse during Wednesday night’s GOP debate – a flub that immediately joined the list of defining debate moments and had even some supporters saying Perry was toast.
Perry’s painful “oops” moment went viral immediately, with the clip of him struggling to come up with the third federal agency he would shut down if elected becoming the most-viewed YouTube video in the United States – and the most-viewed in some key cities in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, according to YouTube.
But the Perry camp isn’t giving up, and the candidate insists he’s not dropping out since he isn't running to be the "debater-in-chief." Instead, he’s hoping to score whatever points he can by admitting his mistake, pointing out that other politicians – from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama – have also made some embarrassing gaffes, and laughing along with those who are poking fun at him. Perry’s self-mockery started in the spin room after right after the debate, where he admitted the incident was "embarrassing" and told reporters, "I'm glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there." He issued a similar message on Twitter.
His campaign on Thursday posted a poll on Perry’s website, asking, “What part of the Federal Government would you like to forget about the most?” and offered 11 choices (including the Department of Energy – which Perry blanked on – along with the National Endowment of the Arts, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Marine Mammal Commission, among others). Voters can also send in their own submissions by emailing email@example.com.
The candidate also made the rounds of the Thursday morning television shows, appearing on all the major networks and repeating that he'd “stepped in it” over and over. "That's pretty brutal," Perry said after watching the clip during an afternoon appearance on Fox News.
Perry’s humor-and-humility TV tour continued Thursday night when presented his Top Ten list of excuses on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman:
10. Actually, there were three reasons I messed up last night: 1) The nerves 2) The Headache 3) Um...Uh...Oops.
9. I don't know what you're talking about – I think things went well.
8. I was up late last night watching Dancing with the Stars.
7. I thought the debate was tonight.
6. Hey, listen. You try concentrating with Mitt Romney smiling at you. That is one handsome dude!
5. Uh, El Nino?
4. I had a five-hour energy drink six hours before the debate.
3. I really hoped it would get me on my favorite talk show, but instead, I ended up here.
2. I wanted to help take the heat off my buddy Herman Cain.
1. I just learned Justin Bieber is my father.
Thursday’s jokefest may help rehabilitate Perry’s image a bit. “It made Perry look human,” joked Stephen Colbert on his late night show. “That’s something Mitt Romney would die for. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, power down and restart for.” So perhaps more voters will think of Perry as someone they’d want to hang out with over a few beers.
But it will take more than that to change the newly cemented perception that he’s an intellectual lightweight, or to overcome the stream of Perry punchlines that are sure to continue at least until the next debate this Saturday, November 12, which will focus on national security. (“I am 100 percent convinced Rick Perry has his name stitched into every single pair of his underpants,” one Twitter user wrote. Ouch.)
Perry is doing the only thing he can to stay in the race, but it may now be impossible for him to convince GOP primary voters that he can go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama – or persuade a majority of the electorate overall that he should be in the Oval Office.