Rick Perry hasn't gotten better.
Of the three GOP presidential debates that Perry has participated in since joining the race six weeks ago, Thursday's performance in Orlando was his worst. The first question for the Republican front-runner was predictable: What's your jobs plan? Perry's answer: tort reform. "If it worked in the state of Texas, it will work in Washington, D.C.," he said.
Pressed for more specifics by moderator Bret Baier, Perry replied, "You'll see a more extensive jobs plan," and then he began talking up Texas's low-tax and low-regulation climate as a model for the country.
Asked by Megyn Kelly how his proposal to let the states handle Social Security would work, Perry replied: "We never said we were going to move this back to the states. What we said was we ought to have as one of the options, the state employees, the state retirees, they being able to go off of the current system on to one that the states operate themselves. As a matter of fact, in Massachusetts, his home state, almost 96% of the people who are on that program, retirees and state people, are off of the Social Security program."
Romney said that in Perry's recently published book, he called Social Security unconstitutional and wanted states handle the program. "You better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that," Romney said. Perry did seem to be backtracking. While he's couched his ideas for Social Security as something we should have a "conversation" about, Perry did seem to suggest that states could run the entire program for all citizens, not just state employees. "I would suggest to you, let's have that conversation. Is that one of the fixes? Get it back to the states," Perry said in a 2010 MSNBC interview. "Why is the federal government even in the pension program or the health care delivery program? Let the states do it."
Perry garbled what could have been a pretty effective retort: "Speaking of books, and talking about being able to have things in your books, back and forth, your economic adviser talked about Romneycare and how that was an absolute bust and it was exactly about what Obamacare was all about."
"As a matter of fact," Perry continued, "between books, your hardcopy book, you said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have that Romneycare given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out." Romney denied it, but the attack had merit to it. But did viewers hear it?
Perry's most incoherent answer of the past three debates came Thursday night when he botched an attack on Mitt Romney's flip-flops:
"I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the second amendment before he was for the second amendment? Was it was before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe versus Wade before he was against Roe versus Wade? Ah, he was for Race to the Top. He's for Obamacare, and now he's against it. I mean we'll wait until tomorrow to see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight."
Perry had a heartfelt answer when asked again about why he wanted to mandate HPV vaccines. "I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31 year old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer," he said. But as ABC points out, Perry met the young woman after he issued his order (which never went into effect). And after taking flak for his position on in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, Perry resorted to an ad hominem attack on his critics.
It was such a poor performance, some conservatives who prefer Perry to Romney delivered withering reviews of the Texas governor. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein wrote that Perry is "blowing it." Perry was a "trainwreck" according to RedState's Erick Erickson. If debates matter much at all in determining the nominee, Perry can't turn in another performance like this one.