Rick Perry Relegated to the Side Stage in the 2-for-1 New Hampshire Debates

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Voters were treated to not one but two Republican presidential debates in roughly 10 hours—one on Saturday night, the other on Sunday morning. In both debates, Rick Perry was relegated to the far end of the stage in Siberia territory, traditionally reserved for the likes of Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann. That said, Rick Santorum used to be in Perry’s position and now he’s front and center thanks to his strong showing in Iowa. Perry, who entered the presidential race strong, is unlikely to see center stage again.

These debates were the last chance for the candidates to reach out to the many independent voters in New Hampshire, who make up more than 40 percent of the state’s electorate, outnumbering both registered Republicans and Democrats. Perry seized on the opportunity—one of the few ones he was given—to remind voters that he is the only true outsider on the stage. (The governor is apparently required by his campaign to use the term “outsider” at least five times in any given speaking engagement.)

In the weekend debates, Perry noticeably struggled to interject himself while trying to practice restraint because of his embarrassing performances in previous debates. It’s a delicate balance, one that Perry failed to maintain during Sunday morning’s NBC News/ Facebook debate when he joked about forgetting which three federal agencies he would like to eliminate (Departments of Commerce, Education and Energy). Why he would want to remind voters of the gaffe that helped damage his candidacy beyond repair is anyone’s guess. It’s difficult to see how Perry won any points in Saturday night’s ABC News/Yahoo debate either when he essentially declared that we should still have our troops in Iraq: “The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure, both in blood and money, that we have spent in Iraq, because this president wants to kowtow to his liberal, leftist base and move out those men and women. … He could have renegotiated that timeframe.”

Speaking of President Obama kowtowing to his “liberal, leftist” base in matters of war, Perry was asked Sunday morning if Obama is a patriot. He pulled out his default line of Obama being a socialist, adding that he doesn’t think “our Founding Fathers wanted America to be a socialist country.” Isn’t questioning the president’s patriotism, coupled with calling for secession, bordering on treasonous? On the question of leadership, Perry blamed not only the president but also an out-of-control Congress, which should be a part-time Congress. Which makes sense seeing that he’s a part-time governor.

Mitt Romney is expected to win Tuesday’s primary by almost 20 points, barring any unforeseen circumstances such as widespread voter fraud or nasty maple syrup hangovers. The latest Real Clear Politics average has Romney at 39 percent with Ron Paul in a distant second at 20 percent. (In a new ARG poll, Huntsman is in second place with 17 percent.) In both polls Perry’s at one percent behind even Buddy Roemer. At what point do you realize that registering single digits in the polls just isn’t going to cut it? The most lucid moment of Perry’s entire campaign was when he hinted at dropping out after the Iowa caucuses. But the next morning he went on a morning jog and had a revelation, one so strong that he felt compelled to tweet a photo of himself suited up in a winter running suit.

Clearly Perry assumed that he would poll better in South Carolina, which is true. He’s doing four points better according to Real Clear Politics, clocking in at an impressive five percent. Romney’s leading in South Carolina too with 31 percent of the vote and Santorum’s in second with 21 percent. Since Perry still has cash on hand, he’s running a new ad in South Carolina titled “Values” in which he reminds voters that he’s the son of tenant farmers from Paint Creek. As if anyone needs reminding.

The South Carolina primary takes place on Jan. 21, giving Perry less than two weeks to convince voters as well as his own party that they should give him another shot. Nothing in the weekend’s debates could possibly have helped him. Of course, the South Carolina primary is notoriously nasty and we know Perry can play dirty. But the only title he could claim at this point would be spoiler.