Rick Perry's campaign spent last week floating the possibility that the Texas governor might skip some, if not all, of the remaining presidential debates. Their logic was pretty clear: Perry entered the field as the newly crowned frontrunner in August, only to see his stock plummet after a series of inept debate performances. They hoped to pull their candidate from the debate podium and counted on having few primary voters notice or care. As Jamelle noted last week, that was a risky strategy, which could alienate the conservative elite who already wary to support the governor after his stumbles.
Perry's camp quickly backtracked the idea over the weekend and said that Perry would attend all of the five scheduled upcoming debates. That course seems set for the primaries but, what happens if Perry manages a comeback to gain the GOP nomination? Steve Benen argues that after his bout of hemming and hawing, Perry would likely try to avoid facing Barack Obama one-on-one by tangling over the rules:
The campaigns always get together to negotiate the terms of the debates (pick formats, choose moderators, etc.). In the event of an Obama-Perry match-up, I imagine Perry’s team would come up with a series of bizarre demands — “The president must wear a beer -bong hat and refer to the governor at all times as ‘The Emperor’” — that Obama’s team would reject. Perry’s campaign would then blame the president and his staff for being unreasonable and argue that they have no choice but to decline.
That's essentially what happened during Perry's gubernatorial run in 2010. He reluctantly attended two debates against primary opponents Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina. The first debate was an unmitigated disaster, with Perry losing his cool and coming across as unknowledgeable on the issues. He managed to stave off that intra-party challenge, and ruled out further debates once he gained the Republican nomination.
For the first time in over two decades, the Texas gubernatorial election featured zero general election debates. Perry refused to face his opponent, Democrat Bill White, under the guise of a demand that White must release his full tax return forms. White met Perry's initial stipulation, releasing the returns from his terms as mayor of Houston, only to have Perry up the ante and mandate records dating even further back. “His excuse for failing to debate was lame, because my financial disclosures were far more extensive than his by any measure,” White told Politico last month.