Texas Gov. Rick Perry fills out his papers to be on the New Hampshire's presidential primary ballot, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry fills out his papers to be on the New Hampshire's presidential primary ballot, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. Jim Cole/AP
Has any modern major-party presidential candidate in recent memory ever given a speech that left so many people afterwards asking if he was under-the-influence during his talk as was the case after Texas Gov. Rick Perry's now infamous appearance (short version) in New Hampshire last Friday? (Longer version.)
If so, that name doesn't come readily to mind.
The part of running for president that all White House aspirants must master to have the best chance of getting elected is looking like a president. It's a high standard, set first by Washington, amplified by Lincoln and the presidents Roosevelt and others.
Candidates have to get voters to imagine them sitting in the Oval Office, standing behind a podium with the presidential seal, greeting the leader of China on the South Lawn or, perhaps most importantly, ordering U.S. men and women military members into war zones.
Part of appearing presidential is always seeming in control of one's self if not events. As much as they are hated by so many people, long, national presidential campaigns stress-test a politician and a candidacy like few other endeavors.
Can a candidate maintain the level of discipline demanded by such campaigns? Can he or she take the withering and constant pressure? Being able to do so is part of appearing presidential.
The Perry stock bubble had already burst after some of his not-ready-for-prime-time debate performances. His campaign had hoped to gain traction by putting some meat on the policy bones by announcing his optional flat-tax plan.
But Perry, who was already appearing increasingly marginalized, at least in national and state polls, clearly lost ground with his, at times, over-the-top performance in that New Hampshire speech. What should have been a run-of-the mill opportunity to deliver his campaign message became raw material for Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. And exceedingly good material it was.
It was the kind of speech that will make it harder, not easier, for many voters to imagine him sitting in the Oval Office. If people were left after a speech asking if the candidate was drunk, that politician by definition has failed the presidential test, at least in that moment.