'Oops.' Rick Perry's Incredible Brain-Freeze Moment (Video)

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In one of the most painful debate moments this year, if not ever, the Texas governor could not recall, even with prompting, which agency he wanted to eliminate

Updated 10:31 p.m.

The most striking thing about this moment, beyond the fact that it happened at all, is that it was a totally unprompted fail, much like Perry's earlier botched attack on Mitt Romney for changing his positions. No one asked Perry to list the agencies he wanted to do away with, or was attacking him directly. He brought up a line himself, a point he wanted to make. And then he just got scrambled.

Here's video of the exchange everyone's talking about:

Perry: "It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the, uh, what's the third one there, let's see... "

Ron Paul: "Five, you have five."

Perry: "Oh, five, okay, so Commerce, Education and the ... uh ... uh."

Moderator John Harwood: "EPA?"

Perry: "EPA, there you go."

Harwood: "Seriously, is EPA the one you were talking about?"

Perry: "No sir, no sir. We were talking about agencies of government. EPA needs to be rebuilt. No doubt about that."

Harwood: "But you can't name the third one?"

Perry: "The third agency of government I would do away with, the Education, the uh, Commerce. Let's see. I can't. The third one I can't. Sorry. Oops."

Later in the debate he remembered the answer he meant to give: "And by the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for earlier," he said.

And after the debate, he took the unusual step of appearing in the debate spin room, where he told reporters, "I'm sure glad I had my boots on because I sure stepped in it out there."

The general rule of such appearances is that successful debate performers and leading candidates send surrogates to the spin room, while trailing candidates and those who did poorly show up themselves.

It was Perry's first post-debate appearance in a spin room since he declared for the presidency.

Meanwhile, the Obama re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee sent out a slew of press releases attacking comments made by Romney, who increasingly looks like the likely GOP nominee.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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