Rick Perry, already under widespread criticism for his listless debate performance, found a way to dig himself into a deeper hole on Wednesday night by forgetting which executive branch departments he would eliminate mid-answer. Even in a campaign loaded with cringe-worthy debate moments, this was easily the low point for any candidate.
The Texas governor drawled through his plan to cut three government agencies, but then stumbled and admitted that he couldn’t recall which ones they were.
“And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when i get there that are gone,” he said. “Commerce, education, and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”
He proceeded to struggle a bit while his rivals and the moderators tried to jog his memory.
“Five,” he said. “Okay. Commerce, education, and the —”
“EPA?” Romney interrupted.
“EPA,” Perry replied. “There you go.”
But then he realized upon further prodding that that wasn’t what he meant at all.
“No, sir, no, sir. We are talking about the — agencies of government,” he said. “EPA needs to be rebuilt.”
Eventually he just gave up.
“Commerce and, let’s see. I can’t,” he said. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Later in the debate, during a separate question, he remembered what he’d been aiming for. “By the way, it was the Department of Energy I was after.”
With time running out for Perry to make his move in the polls, the bumbling answer is going to be tough to overcome. Expect a lot of questions on this tomorrow.
Correction: An earlier version identified a moderator as interjecting “EPA?” It was Romney.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.