The cliché: "The GOP front-runner is falling back to Earth," writes Mark Thiessen at The Washington Post, referring, of course, to Texas governor Rick Perry. Echoing him, Rich Lowry at National Review writes, "Perry has been coming back to Earth lately, partly on his uneven debate performances." Lowry's echo of Thiessen probably sounds extra familiar, and not just because a satellite is actually plummeting to Earth today. It got quite a lot of use after Perry's first GOP debate performance. "Another tentative performance in the next debate, on Monday night, could bring his campaign crashing back to Earth as fast as it launched into orbit," Glen Johnson at The Boston Globe (falsely) predicted after that first debate appearance. "But on Wednesday evening he could begin a slow descent back to earth," agreed The Daily Beat's Howard Kurtz after that debate as well.
Where's it from? Over the past decade, political journalists have increasingly abused the cliche of referring to declining poll numbers as "falling back to earth." Occasionally, though, a writer will leave out the "poll numbers" and simply declare a politician to be falling to earth. This has notably been the case in all of the Perry/debate references. The implication is, of course, that that a person had extremely high approval that is now falling at an accelerating rate.
Why's it catching on? The "falling to Earth" metaphor began in the period surrounding his first debate just as his first really impressive polling numbers came out. Just a day ahead of the debate, he overtook Mitt Romney leading him 27 percent to 22 percent. The rise of someone who had barely spoken out loud on the national stage since declaring his campaign amazed pundits, so its no wonder they reached for the stars with their metaphors for his success. And now, we finally see his surges starting to sputter. As Thiessen himself points out "Just a few weeks ago, two national polls showed Perry leading Mitt Romney by 12 and 13 points. This week, two new polls (from USA Today and the New York Times) show that Romney has cut Perry's lead nearly in half to just 7 points." So it seems the cliche got extra play surrounding news cycles where Rick Perry had particularly mobile poll numbers.