At tonight's CNBC debate, Rick Perry likely torpedoed both his own campaign and Herman Cain's. As a result, I will predict that by December 1 Newt Gingrich will be at least 2nd in the polls, if not 1st. More importantly, I would now project Mitt Romney to be the near-certain nominee.
Perry committed a huge blunder in the debate. He was attempting to discuss his plans to eliminate three cabinet departments, then couldn't name which three. He got Commerce and Education, but forgot the Energy Department.
If Romney, Gingrich, Huntsman, Santorum or Paul would have committed this mistake, it might not have been so bad for their chances. For Perry, however, the gaffe played into an already-established narrative that he's, to be blunt, too dumb to be President. This reinforcing nature of the gaffe is what makes it so fatal, just like Howard Dean's "I have a scream" moment killed him because it reinforced that he was unstable/angry or why Dan Quayle's "potatoe" gaffe defined his legacy.
It is, frankly, unacceptable for a Presidential candidate to not be able to rattle off every cabinet department, or at least the ones he plans to eliminate. Perry should have been able to catch himself, start a list of each department and arrive at the right one.
This gaffe will undoubtedly be run again and again on the news, and I think we can all predict with a fair degree of certainty what Saturday Night Live will open with this week. I predict that this will lead to a discussion of the intellectual requirements to be President, and that this (along with the sexual harassment stuff) will end Cain's reign at/near the top.
So why Gingrich? Truly, it's largely a process of elimination. Perry, Cain and Bachmann have already had their shot (and fail the intelligence test), Paul's too out there, Santorum and Huntsman too unknown, and Romney's Romney, so it's Gingrich's turn. He certainly meets the intelligence requirement. He's a true conservative, with 1994 Contract with America credentials. Perry and Cain are going down, and voters won't settle on Romney yet, so it's Newt's turn.
Does Newt have a chance of being the nominee? I truly doubt it. With the intensified attention that will come with improving in the polls, people will remember about his "right-wing social engineering" remark, his serial affairs, his ethics issues that led to reprimand by the House, etc. But for now, when poll respondents only remember the 1994 revolution and his recent debate performances, he'll have a rise.
But after his inevitable fall, we'll be left with Romney. I think Santorum's social stances are too extreme even for the modern Republican Party, and he's just not that likeable. Huntsman is too moderate/reasonable. So they're left with Romney. As previously discussed, I'm OK with that.