Can Perry afford to pull out of televised debates?

After a series of poor performances, the Texas governor will pull out of some debates. It is a high

Rick Perry, the Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful, may pull out of some televised debates after a string of poor performances.

Perry, a latecomer to the race to become the Republican candidate in the 2012 election, quickly became the frontrunner, before falling behind due to a series of mistakes.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, retains the lead in the national polls, as well as being steps ahead on organisation and fundraising.

Perry's team are keen to refute the perception that their candidate running scared, saying that the heavy debating schedule is preventing him from spending time with voters. His spokesman, Ray Sullivan, said:

There have been eight Republican debates so far, five since Gov. Perry got in. We certainly respect the process, but when you've got eight or nine candidates and 30 seconds to a minute (to answer a question or provide a rebuttal), it takes valuable time away from campaigning in Iowa as those elections approach.

Perry himself has tried to downplay the importance of debates. When Fox News asked if he'd made any mistakes in the race, he said:

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.

So, you know, if there was a mistake made it was probably ever doing one of the (debates) when all they are interested in is stirring it up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.

Essentially, Perry is returning to the same strategy that helped him to win three elections as governor of Texas. He is well aware that he is not a strong debater, and in previous elections (he has never lost one), he has debated his rivals only when there is no other option. He has relied on his personal charisma and ability to connect with voters personally - but it is hard to see how this will be as effective on a national scale. Televised debates give candidates a huge amount of free media exposure to primary voters who may not otherwise know who they are.

Perry has not ruled out appearing in any debates, but his team say they will decide this on a case by case basis. His decision has sparked much discussion in the US. While some commentators concede that there are too many debates, and that the format does not lend itself to deep discussion, there is unanimous agreement that Perry's poor performance so far suggests he is simply afraid of coming off badly. A spokesman for his rival Rick Santorum summed up the negative viewpoint:

How can Gov. Perry expect anyone to trust he can take on Obama and the Democratic machine when he thinks debating his fellow Republicans is too tough?

Other candidates could follow his lead and bow out of some debates too, which would reduce this perception. What is certain is that this is a high risk strategy.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Sean Spicer's Emmys love-in shows how little those with power fear Donald Trump

There's tolerance for Trump and his minions from those who have little to lose from his presidency.

He actually did it. Sean Spicer managed to fritter away any residual fondness anyone had for him (see here, as predicted), by not having the dignity to slip away quietly from public life and instead trying to write off his tenure under Trump as some big joke.

At yesterday’s Emmys, as a chaser to host Stephen Colbert’s jokes about Donald Trump, Sean Spicer rolled onto the stage on his SNL parody podium and declared, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period.” Get it? Because the former communications director lied about the Trump inauguration crowd being the largest in history? Hilarious! What is he like? You can’t take him anywhere without him dropping a lie about a grave political matter and insulting the gravity of the moment and the intelligence of the American people and the world. 

Celebs gasped when they saw him come out. The audience rolled in the aisles. I bet the organisers were thrilled. We got a real live enabler, folks!

It is a soul-crushing sign of the times that obvious things need to be constantly re-stated, but re-state them we must, as every day we wake up and another little bit of horror has been prettified with some TV make-up, or flattering glossy magazine profile lighting.

Spicer upheld Trump's lies and dissimulations for months. He repeatedly bullied journalists and promoted White House values of misogyny, racism, and unabashed dishonesty. The fact that he was clearly bad at his job and not slick enough to execute it with polished mendacity doesn't mean he didn't have a choice. Just because he was a joke doesn't mean he's funny.

And yet here we are. The pictures of Spicer's grotesque glee at the Emmy after-party suggested a person who actually can't quite believe it. His face has written upon it the relief and ecstasy of someone who has just realised that not only has he got away with it, he seems to have been rewarded for it.

And it doesn't stop there. The rehabilitation of Sean Spicer doesn't only get to be some high class clown, popping out of the wedding cake on a motorised podium delivering one liners. He also gets invited to Harvard to be a fellow. He gets intellectual gravitas and a social profile.

This isn’t just a moment we roll our eyes at and dismiss as Hollywood japes. Spicer’s celebration gives us a glimpse into post-Trump life. Prepare for not only utter impunity, but a fete.

We don’t even need to look as far as Spicer, Steve Bannon’s normalisation didn’t even wait until he left the White House. We were subjected to so many profiles and breathless fascinations with the dark lord that by the time he left, he was almost banal. Just your run of the mill bar room bore white supremacist who is on talk show Charlie Rose and already hitting the lucrative speaker’s circuit.

You can almost understand and resign yourself to Harvard’s courting of Spicer; it is after all, the seat of the establishment, where this year’s freshman intake is one third legacy, and where Jared Kushner literally paid to play, but Hollywood? The liberal progressive Hollywood that took against Trump from the start? There is something more sinister, more revealing going here. 

The truth is, despite the pearl clutching, there is a great deal of relative tolerance for Trump because power resides in the hands of those who have little to lose from a Trump presidency. There are not enough who are genuinely threatened by him – women, people of colour, immigrants, populating the halls of decision making, to bring the requisite and proportional sense of anger that would have been in the room when the suggestion to “hear me out, Sean Spicer, on SNL’s motorised podium” was made.

Stephen Colbert is woke enough to make a joke at Bill Maher’s use of the N-word, but not so much that he refused to share a stage with Spicer, who worked at the white supremacy head office.

This is the performative half-wokeness of the enablers who smugly have the optics of political correctness down, but never really internalised its values. The awkward knot at the heart of the Trump calamity is that of casual liberal complicity. The elephant in the room is the fact that the country is a most imperfect democracy, where people voted for Trump but the skew of power and capital in society, towards the male and the white and the immune, elevated him to the candidacy in the first place.

Yes he had the money, but throw in some star quality and a bit of novelty, and you’re all set. In a way what really is working against Hillary Clinton’s book tour, where some are constantly asking that she just go away, is that she’s old hat and kind of boring in a world where attention spans are the length of another ridiculous Trump tweet.

Preaching the merits of competence and centrism in a pantsuit? Yawn. You’re competing for attention with a White House that is a revolving door of volatile man-children. Trump just retweeted a video mock up where he knocks you over with a golf ball, Hillary. What have you got to say about that? Bet you haven’t got a nifty Vaclav Havel quote to cover this political badinage.

This is how Trump continues to hold the political culture of the country hostage, by being ultra-present and yet also totally irrelevant to the more prosaic business of nation building. It is a hack that goes to the heart of, as Hillary's new book puts it, What Happened.

The Trump phenomenon is hardwired into the American DNA. Once your name becomes recognisable you’re a Name. Once you’ve done a thing you are a Thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re known for or what you’ve done.

It is the utter complacency of the establishment and its pathetic default setting that is in thrall to any mediocre male who, down to a combination of privilege and happenstance, ended up with some media profile. That is the currency that got Trump into the White House, and it is the currency that will keep him there. As Spicer’s Emmy celebration proves, What Happened is still happening.