After a meandering debate performance in which Rick Perry dared to show an ounce of humanity, media outlets have been quick to proclaim that he's lost his chances of gaining the GOP nomination. That narrative was backed up by the polls released over the past week, which have shown Perry dropping from his front-runner status.
But just looking at the topline numbers doesn't tell the full story. As Nate Silver points out, Perry's fall in the polls hasn't been matched by increased support for Mitt Romney. Instead, Perry's early backers have switched their allegiance to the fringe conservative candidates who appear to have little shot at gaining the nomination, folks like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.
While the slumping numbers are bad for Perry at the moment, it doesn't mean all that much for the eventual nomination. He need only maintain his status as the right-wing challenger to Romney, and hope the far right of the party will turn out in greater numbers than moderate Republicans. As long as Perry stays atop the Tea Party side of the field, he will survive the first few contests and pick up the others' supporters. As the nation's longest-serving governor with deep ties to Republican donors that shouldn't be too challenging, especially when he's up against Michele (Cuban Missile Crisis) Bachmann, Herman (Won't Hire a Muslim) Cain, and Rick (Don't Google Him) Santorum.
Once it gets down to the point of just Romney versus Perry, we'll finally know whether moderates have any say in the GOP, or if it is truly a party that has been hijacked by extremists.