Tuned In

Rick Perry Excuses Himself on David Letterman

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Fresh off his freeze-tastic performance in the GOP Presidential debate Wednesday night, Rick Perry showed up on Late Show with David Letterman to try to turn embarrassment into embarrassment-ade, reading a list of top 10 excuses for his onstage forgetfulness.

Did Perry help himself out? The minimum standard for an appearance like this is that it makes the subject look like a good sport, and Perry probably did that. Then again, seeming like a good sport is not exactly his major problem right now.

I’m neither a politics nor a public-relations expert, but this strikes me as the sort of appearance that might do more good after a gaffe in a general election. To a voter who doesn’t follow the news closely, Perry’s laughing the spasm off could help send the message that it’s just another silly media frenzy, that the guy made a mistake like everybody does, he can laugh at himself over it, and we can move on because it’s a one-time thing.

The problem here is that a Presidential primary, at this stage of the game, is being followed by higher-intensity voters—people who have been following the candidates more or less closely and who therefore know that Perry’s record of shall-we-say shaky debate performances is not a one-time thing. It may not be a dealbreaker, but to the more committed primary voters, a good turn on Letterman is probably not going to un-break the deal, either.

The perception of Perry as hazy and asleep on his feet is probably not so easily shaken, as suggested by a subtle but sharp dig Letterman got in as the candidate took the Ed Sullivan Theater stage: “How do you feel, by the way? You feel all right? You ready? You well rested?” Rick Perry has laughed at himself, as he must, but the joke lives on.