Rick Perry is pushing back against criticism of his debate performances, particularly the Florida debate, by arguing that we should not elect the smoothest debater:

“As conservatives we know that values and vision matter. It’s not who is the slickest candidate or the smoothest debater that we need to elect. We need to elect the candidate with the best record and the best vision for this country,” he said at a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida. “The current occupant of the White House can sure talk a good game, but he doesn’t deliver.”

That’s true but only to a point.  We don’t need the smoothest debater, but we do need someone with the minimum required debating smoothness.

Like it or not, in September and October 2012 there are going to be debates which will be watched by an enormous percentage of the electorate, and the mainstream media will be unforgiving of mistakes by the Republican nominee.  A miserable performance, on par with the one Perry had Thursday night, would be a disaster.

By contrast, strong debate performances against Obama, holding Obama accountable in front of tens of millions of people, exposing his failures for what they are, could seal the deal.  The mainstream media will not perform that task for us, so our nominee needs to do it.  Perry has not shown so far that he is capable of that; it’s not smoothness, its preparation and execution.

Also, the criticism of Perry was not only his smoothness, but the words he used.  His “I don’t think you have a heart” comment was, in many ways, our worst nightmare; it’s the old “compassionate conservative” argument, as if the modifier was needed.

I still have an open mind about Perry.  I hope he can show us that there is a there there.  But the “smoothness” argument is just a dodge.