In the long annals of presidential-campaign debating, there had until this evening been three famous-disaster moments:
1. 1976, Gerald Ford and Poland. This one wasn't quite fair. Ford was trying to make a reasonable point -- that the Polish people would never consider themselves a vanquished population. But what he actually said was, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and under a Ford Administration there never will be." And since the background imagery of those days was an (also unfair) mainly SNL-based theme that Ford was not really that bright ... well, it made trouble for him. And the Jimmy Carter campaign, for which I was working at the time, did all we could to rub it in.
2. 1988, Dan Quayle and Jack Kennedy. He walked right into this one -- and Lloyd Bentsen was there, crocodile-like, just waiting for him.
3. 1992, James Stockdale, "who am I?" Sigh. (For the young: Stockdale, a military hero, Medal of Honor winner, and long-time POW in Vietnam, was Ross Perot's running mate. He was a formidable figure not well suited to the political campaign trail. This was his self-introduction in a debate against the other VP candidates, Quayle and Al Gore.)
4. 2011. Now, sadly, there is a fourth. I think anyone watching had to feel bad for Perry. I do.
More from Garance Franke-Ruta. Poor Perry.