The Growing Irrelevance of Rick Perry

When your enemies hate Huntsman more, it's time to give up

John Huntsman: Doing better than Perry in New Hampshire (but who isn't?)
John Huntsman: Doing better than Perry in New Hampshire (but who isn't?)

Ever wonder whether the Rick Perry campaign looks back with fondness on those happy days mere months ago when Saturday Night Live would mock him mercilessly? Back when he was relevant? If his also-ran performance at Saturday's ABC Debate is any measure, don't expect too many more SNL skits.

The night like a giant prep debate for Mitt Romney, but on a national and very public stage. It was hard to say what was more bizarre: Newt Gingrich calling out corporate raiders or Rick Santorum running on his foreign policy credentials. In fact, both were going after the presumptive nominee, arguing that the US doesn't need a business manager to as commander-in-chief, and especially not one that ran a private equity firm specializing in job-killing leveraged buyouts.

Amidst this, Perry was barely a foot note. It took Jon Huntsman bragging on Utah's job creation record ("with all due respect to what Rick Perry has said about Texas, we did a little bit better") to even get him namechecked in the first quarter hour. When he finally got his moment to camera, he railed on "the insiders in Washington DC" (which he reiterated almost verbatim on Sunday's Meet the Press/Facebook debate) and touted himself as someone "that can get the Tea Party behind them" (hey, Rick, 2010 called, they want their primary meme back.) Doubling down on that mantra, he even went after Ron Paul, calling his stance on earmarks "hypocrisy."

The debate devolved to three key points: Debt ceilings, insider status and hypocrisy – oh, and the greatest hits of Gingrich, who has taken to his post as surly bombthrower with great vigor. Throughout the process, Perry basically remained an irrelevancy, emerging only to polish his military credentials by attacking what he claimed was the Obama administration's plan to cut $1 trillion from the US military budget (not even close: it's $500 billion over the next ten years, and that's still less than the $5 trillion budget cut that Perry said he would make.)

And even the day after brought little relief. The post-debate coverage centered on Gingrich accusing Romney of "pious baloney" and Romney attacking Hunstman's service as an ambassador. Why the attack on Huntsman? Because polling by University of New Hampshire/WMUR, Public Policy Polling, the American Research Group, and the latest numbers from the Suffolk University/7News tracking polls find that Huntsman is picking up momentum. That is even after the former ambassador to China committed the admirable no-no of speaking anything other than English in a GOP debate. All four polls find Perry down on 1%, so why would Romney waste any energy talking about him?

More interestingly for Democrats, as the GOP national front runners tear strips out of each other for being pro-Wall Street political insider liberal hypocrites, the candidate making the most unexpected gain is the most centrist (well, by modern GOP standards), the most broadly traveled, the most proudly intellectual and the most multicultural of the bunch.

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2012 Primaries, Rick Perry, The Perry Trap, Election 2012, 2012 Primary Debate, University of New Hampshire, WMUR, Public Policy Polling, American Research Group, Suffolk University, 7News, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Mandarin

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