My initial reaction last night was that Rick Perry did not have a good night.

My reaction this morning is that he had a disastrous night, possibly ending his chances of getting the nomination unless he gets his act together real soon.  I say “possibly” because it only is late September, and there still is time … but if last night is the best he has, it’s just not good enough.

On appearances, Perry came across once again as ill-prepared, stumbling, and uncomfortable.  I cringe at the thought of the Rick Perry from last night’s debate on stage in October 2012 against Obama with the whole country watching.  I hope there is another Rick Perry out there, because last night’s Rick Perry would not stand a chance on stage against our smooth-talking, fact-misstating President.

Michelle Malkin has the video of a fumbled attempt to attack Romney.  It was a set attack piece, clearly planned in advance, there was no reason to mess it up.

Perry’s answer on the Texas Dream Act was horrid.  The issue was in-state tuition for children brought to the country illegally.   Someone legally in the country from Arizona would pay significantly more than someone illegally in the country who resides in Texas.  The issue was not whether children brought here illegally get an education through high school, or even get to go to college, it’s whether they get a discount that American children do not get.  Yet here was Perry’s answer (via Weekly Standard)(emphasis mine):

“If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought their through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said. “We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society. I think that’s what Texans wanted to do. Out of 181 members of the Texas legislature when this issue came up [there were] only four dissenting votes. This was a state issue. Texas voted on it. And I still support it today.”

Romney correctly corrected Perry by pointing out that the issue was the discount and favoritism towards those here illegally versus Americans from other states.  Perry could have defended his policy on the merits without making the “you don’t have a heart” claim.  That answer was insulting and right out of the Democratic Party playbook and the type of charge we are used to hearing from Paul Krugman.

Perry’s Gardasil answer was just as bad.  By now he should have a clear answer to the question, it’s come up so many times before.  Yet he justified his executive order by saying he was lobbied on it by a woman with stage 4 cervical cancer.  I immediately thought, hadn’t I heard someplace that he didn’t meet that woman until after the order?  And sure enough, my vague memory of news reports was better than Perry’s memory on stage (via ABC News):

“I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31 year old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer,” said Perry. “I spent a lot of time with her.  She came by my office  She talked to me about this program.   I readily admitted we should have had an opt-in but I don’t know what part of opt out most parents don’t get and the fact is I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life as a governor as a president of the United States.”

The woman Rick Perry mentioned in the Republican debate Thursday was Heather Burcham, a thirty one year old woman dying from cervical cancer. But what Perry left out in his answer was that he met her after he issued his executive order.

I wanted to like Rick Perry and hoped he would be the conservative we had been hoping for.  But I didn’t jump on the Perry bandwagon unlike some other conservative bloggers in part because the field was not complete and in part because I didn’t know enough about him.

I brought Katie Thompson on for guest posts over the summer to make the case for Perry and she did a good job.  (Note: Katie now is a leader of Students for Perry)

I have been waiting for the Rick Perry of Katie’s posts to show up at the debates.  I’m still waiting.  The Rick Perry of lore needs to show up real soon.

Update:  Jim Geraghty points out the negative reaction to the “don’t have a heart” comment:

According to [Frank] Luntz’s focus group [on Fox News after the debate], this line by Perry was not only his worst moment in the debate, but perhaps the worst moment any Republican has had in any debate since he started doing these debate-watching focus groups….

Hey, Governor, if we wanted to hear suggestions that folks on the Right are heartless we would have tuned in to watch a bunch of Democrats….

If Rick Perry wants to argue that allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates is better for the state, he can and should say so. But every time he suggests that those who disagree have cold-hearted or hateful motives, he alienates Republicans who might otherwise support him.