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They Didn’t Do Perry Any Favors

It appears that CNN is waving its rules about qualifications to allow Rick Perry to take part in next Thursday’s debate in South Carolina. The network had said candidates would have had to place in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire and then register at least 7 percent in either national or South Carolina polls conducted in January. After flopping in Iowa and not even competing in New Hampshire, Perry doesn’t meet any of those criteria.

So in order to squeeze Perry into their debate, CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist decided to average three polls, two of which had Perry below the 7 percent mark. Exactly why the network felt compelled to do him a favor is not clear, but whatever its motivation, Perry will get one last chance to make his case to South Carolinians two days before the primary that will probably seal his fate as a presidential candidate. But given the fact that Perry’s decline is directly related to his debate performances, one wonders why, other than the humiliation of being excluded, he would care about getting into the CNN debate.

This does raise a great “what if” about a campaign that must be considered the most spectacular failure of this election cycle.

What if the GOP contest had not been dominated by a series of debates that became America’s favorite political reality TV series? What if the debates hadn’t started until a month or so before Iowa and then only  two or three? Before the debates, he seemed a sure-fire frontrunner, garnering the support of various conservative constituencies. There’s no way of answering such counter-factual queries with any degree of certainty, but there’s little doubt the repeated exposure of Perry under the television lights destroyed his hopes. His “oops” moment and other gaffes gave the country the impression he was something of a dolt. That may have been a little unfair but, looking back, his avoidance of debates during his races in Texas should have told those of us who took his frontrunner reputation at face value something about his ability to survive the presidential gauntlet.

Breaking the rules to get him into the last dance before South Carolina is a courtesy that is perhaps due to a sitting governor of Texas though it is bound to infuriate Buddy Roemer, who has been kept out of the debates because of his own inability to meet their criteria. But perhaps the best favor anyone could have done Rick Perry was to exclude him from all of the debates.