There are eleven more GOP presidential debates scheduled through the beginning of the primaries, and the Rick Perry campaign says their candidate might just skip a few of them, as reported in the New York Times:
A spokesman for Rick Perry, whose candidacy has faltered after several poor debate appearances, said on Wednesday that the Texas governor may not participate in some of the coming face-offs.
“We will look at each debate individually and then make a decision,” Mark Miner, the spokesman, told The Times’s Richard A. Oppel Jr. Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Miner told Politico that “all the campaigns are expressing frustration right now” about the extensive debate schedule.
“We said we would do Michigan, but the primaries are around the corner and you have to use your time accordingly,” he said. (The next debate is scheduled for Nov. 9 in Rochester, Mich.)
Perry told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, “These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates. It’s pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one-minute response.”
He’s got a point. It takes a lot of time and effort for candidates to attend these debates, and with the weirdly mutated GOP primary schedule before us, they’d rather spend time shoring up various state operations. Twenty debates is a lot of effort to set the stage for the early primaries, in which all those debate performances will suddenly become semi-forgotten prologues to a game of electoral “Survivor” in which various torches are mercilessly extinguished, and the narrative becomes totally concerned with the state-by-state race.
Of course, anyone who skips a debate is going to get mercilessly hammered as a big chicken by those who show up, although I notice Jon Huntsman is holding on to his rock-solid 1% in the polls after skipping Las Vegas. Perry would take an especially tough beating, since he hasn’t exactly been tearing up the debate stage. If he skips a seemingly minor debate where one of his rivals makes significant news, he’s going to suffer a lot of damage.
The Times notes that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had 26 debates during their primary, which is more than this year’s Republicans have on the table. The big difference, of course, is that the Obama-Clinton debates were a lot less crowded. The packed Republican stage makes their debates more exhausting, especially as they try to grab the spotlight from each other, and end up rolling around on Mitt Romney’s lawn.
Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have built surprisingly strong campaigns based largely on excellent debate performances, so they’re not likely to give up debate opportunities. (Even if the Cain collapse pundits keep predicting comes to pass, he still belongs in the history books for what he’s accomplished.) I can see why some of the others would be feeling fatigued, but it seems to me that a lot of them have been usefully refining and strengthening their positions in response to debate challenges. That will pay dividends during the general election, no matter who the candidate is.
I think Perry would be making a mistake to bail out of this saga just as it’s getting really interesting, and I doubt any of the others would join him.