The Big Conversation:
It was, as it has inevitably been called, the "oops" heard 'round the world.
At CNBC's Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, Gov. Rick Perry, already no stranger to intense criticism of his performances on stage, declared that he'd eliminate three government agencies — but could only remember two.
“I would do away with the Education, Commerce and … let’s see,” Perry said, trailing off as he looked through notes. After nearly a minute of uncomfortable dithering, he continued: “I can’t. The third one I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Laughs, and some gasps, erupted in the audience. “Seriously?” moderator John Harwood said at one point.
Twitter, which had stayed relatively quiet as the candidates largely avoided any confrontation, nearly detonated. A choice sampling of reactions from reporters and observers, compiled by the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton: "OH. MY. GOD." "Perry has done the impossible: evoke pity." "HOLY COW. HOLY COW. HOLY COW." "Like Rick Perry, I'm speechless." "Worst. Moment. Ever."
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato called it "the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate."
After the debate, a chastened Perry entered the spin room in damage-control mode.
"I stepped in it, man. Yeah, it was embarrassing, of course it was," he told reporters, adding, "I named two agencies, and [the Department of Energy] didn't come out. The bottom line is that while I may have forgotten Energy, I haven't forgotten my conservative principles."
This morning, Perry continued to try to stanch the bleeding. "I am human like everyone else," he told the Today show. And his campaign, as Business Insider reports, has decided to try to fundraise off the gaffe. "Tonight Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate. Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies," reads an email to supporters with the subject line "So, what agency would you most like to forget."
So is Perry toast? As Nate Silver of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight notes, Perry's still got the money, and the recent rise of Newt Gingrich shows how fluid the race remains. But as Silver writes, Perry faces daunting odds: "There isn’t all that much time left. Iowa will vote less than two months from today, with New Hampshire and South Carolina following on its heels. This is about the point in time at which voters, donors, and party officials need to think tactically, betting on a horse whom they think can win. Thus, Mr. Perry’s demise could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: If everyone thinks he is going to lose, he almost certainly will.
- The Tribune's Jay Root reports today that a state-paid trip to New York City to tout the Texas firefighter pension system and to take state legislators on sightseeing tours has sparked criticism about wasteful spending. Sherri Walker, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to head the Fire Fighters’ Pension Commission, called the $309-per-day rate the state would pay for her and two staffers' hotel rooms "excellent for this time of year." Walker said she expected several state legislators to join her on the trip (for which, she said, they wouldn't bill the agency), but none have confirmed their plans to attend. The trip would offer the agency, which oversees the $64 million pension fund for volunteer firefighters, a chance to showcase its importance, Walker said. "The Legislature just doesn’t get us," she said. "Twice our agency has been on the cutting-room floor when it comes to appropriations. This is a good educational experience all around.”
- The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles' governing board will vote today whether to approve the sale of speciality license plates emblazoned with the Confederate flag, as the Austin American-Statesman reports. Earlier this year, a tie vote on the board left the plates pending, and the issue has since drawn heated debate in Texas and, briefly, on the presidential campaign trail: Last month, Rick Perry announced his opposition to the plates, saying they would open "old wounds."
- A new report critical of the State Board of Education's controversial social studies standards instructs teachers how to bypass parts of the new curriculum. But as the San Antonio Express-News reports, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has disavowed the report, which was produced by a group the coordinating board established.
"There's nothing I could say that could darken the night Rick Perry had." — Mitt Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom on Wednesday night's debate
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