It's been a rough time for former-Gov. Rick Perry. First, he gets saddled with a couple of indictments just as he is getting ready to make another bid for the GOP presidential nod. Then he does battle with fellow candidate Donald Trump and somehow ends up the loser, even though most rational creatures would concur that he kicked Trump's ass in every round of their public political boxing match. And now, to make matters worse, Fox News has gone and put Perry — along with a handful of other wanna-be presidential candidates from the crowded Republican field — at the debate equivalent of the kiddie table.
While the Donald will be holding forth on the main stage in Cleveland with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and (somehow) Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the other candidates will be in sort of cocktail hour debate. That means Perry will be debating Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former business executive Carly Fiorina, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Why? Well, according to Fox News it's because Perry simply didn't make the cut. With 17 contenders vying for the gig, Fox News announced a while back that this first debate would be limited to the top 10 candidates, as determined by national polls. (Here we feel it's worth mentioning that national polls at this juncture are still relatively meaningless, as On the Media recently noted.) Perry's renewed run at the White House nomination hasn't exactly been met with joy and rejoicing across the land or the donations and poll numbers that are almost the sole means of taking a candidate's political pulse these days.
Still, even though it's been hard to put the memory of Perry's disastrous-but-hilarious 2012 run to rest, initially it seemed that Perry would easily manage to get a spot on the main stage. (The difference between being on that stage is the difference between being a campaign trail joke and at least a somewhat viable presidential option.)
After all, Perry has gone through such pains to change his image this time around. He framed that handsome face with a pair of black "smart guy" glasses and he obviously studied hard to play his self-cast role as "the policy wonk" during this time around. It would be all too easy to attribute the Perry shutout to low polling numbers because of his inability to blot out his past as the painkiller-popping candidate who infamously said "Oops," but then you have to look at who actually edged Perry out of the top 10.
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Kasich got into the campaign late. Even though some would argue that the Ohio governor has all of that "real potential" stuff that could make him seem like he's got a snowball's chance in hell of scoring the Republican nomination (mainly because he's the governor of a swing state), in reality Kasich is the epitome of a political space filler. Sure, after belatedly throwing his hat into the ring, he gained some traction and a top-tier debate spot based on 4 percent of support in the national polls, but Forbes noted that only 26 percent of those polled said they could see themselves ever supporting him. The percentages were about the same for both Trump and Graham. (The Forbes analysis of the poll data is like a really fun game of "Never Have I Ever").
Meanwhile, even though only 2 percent in the national polls said Perry was their first choice, a whopping 49 percent said they could see themselves ultimately supporting him. After the news broke on who made the cut Perry, or whoever is in charge of his Twitter, tried to take a positive approach to things:
I look forward to being @FoxNews 5pm debate for what will be a serious exchange of ideas & positive solutions to get America back on track.— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) August 4, 2015
But while this is just the first primary debate, it's worth keeping in mind that these primary debates are crucial for outlier candidates like Perry. In 2012 Newt Gingrich was a powerhouse in the first primary debate and it ended up giving his campaign a badly needed shot in the arm that kept him in the race much longer than most people would have bet. If he'd gotten into the main debate, Perry was almost undoubtedly hoping to pull off a similar type of miracle. But now that door is closed.