Can Perry Win If He Can’t Debate?

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Can Rick Perry win the nomination if he can’t win a debate? Sure, there’ve been candidates who’ve won office after losing debates. Both Al Gore and John Kerry were deemed the winners of their rounds with George W. Bush. And remember Barack Obama’s dismal debate performances for the first dozen or so of the whopping 26 Democratic debates in the 2008 cycle?

Indeed, Obama’s comeback should give Perry hope that his performance thus far can be rectified. Perry is improving, if you count going from doing active damage to his candidacy – as we saw in his first three debates — to becoming the wallflower we saw last night. When you make Mitt Romney, the last character left in Pleasantville who will never achieve Technicolor, look dynamic, you know you’ve got problems. “Debates are not my strong suit,” Perry conceded at a Dartmouth frat house – yes, a frat house! – after Tuesday’s debate, “but we get up every day and just try and let people see our passion so I think that’s what we did tonight.”

The trick of it is, Perry knows how to debate. There’s darn good video of him showing his “passion” when running for office in Texas. So, where did zombie-Perry come from? This Perry, who hunches in his seat, winces at his rivals’ answers and lobs genteel tennis balls at Romney. My guess is that he’s been over coached. He has the look of John McCain after the “Straight Talk” Express became an oxymoron: slightly terrified, slightly bored and more than a little resentful.

It is possible to win the nomination without winning a debate. But it’s also unlikely. And, even more importantly, is that really the way Perry would want to win it? By erasing his personality and becoming some blandly vanilla candidate X? On the other hand, if Romney’s success is any indication, maybe that’s what works in this day and age.