Rick Perry’s had a rough go this week.
The former Texas governor was shut out of the prime-time Republican presidential debate – the first of its kind in this election cycle that could make or break a campaign. He was exiled to the “kid’s table” forum where lower-tier candidates will have to duke it out to stay relevant and remind deep-pocketed donors that their campaigns still exist.
Then in a blow to Perry’s legacy as a three-term governor of the Lone Star State, a federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down the harsh voter ID law that he signed in 2011, siding with the Obama administration’s argument that the law discriminates against minority voters.
Now it’s time to see if Perry can also make lemonade out of the bushel of lemons handed to him.
Perry took the debate snub in stride, tweeting that he was looking forward a “serious exchange of ideas.” An aide looked on the bright side, telling The New York Times that the main stage – featuring Donald Trump – is likely to devolve into “a circus.”
When Perry steps out onto the prime-time debate pre-show Thursday evening, he’ll at least have the luxury of being the top-ranked candidate among his lower-tier opponents. Alongside him will be former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and former New York Gov. George Pataki – all of whom have struggled to stand out amid the crowded GOP field.
Perry was edged out of the main debate stage by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who got into the race late in the game just over two weeks ago. In that time, Kasich has been able to beat out Perry by a slim margin, overcoming a long-winded and rambling campaign announcement to grab the final spot in the debate hosted in his own state.
The first major presidential debate was supposed to be a crucial opportunity for Perry to bury the ghosts of his presidential past. Perry’s debate stage blunders during his 2012 presidential run made him the butt of jokes for years with his now infamous “oops” moment making his comeback this year all that much harder. He has since tried to rebrand himself as a bit of a policy wonk and has dedicated significant time to convince skeptics that he has the smarts to hold the Oval Office.
“If Rick Perry wins the nomination, it will be because … 1. Perry has some terrific debate moments along the way to Iowa, thereby convincing voters that the 2016 (not the 2012) candidate is the real Rick Perry,” conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote Thursday in The Washington Post.
There’s a chance that Perry will have to address the court challenges to his voter ID law during the debate. Thursday marks the 50th anniversary to the Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation that until recently had prevented harsh measures like Texas’ voter ID law from being enacted. But a crucial Supreme Court decision in 2013 dismantled key pillars of the VRA, allowing Texas to be a trailblazer in imposing harsh voting restrictions to target often dubious claims of widespread fraud. A handful of other states have followed suit in passing legislation to curb certain types of voting access, meaning Wednesday’s court ruling will likely have implications that extend beyond Texas.
Without Trump there to suck all the attention and oxygen out of the room, Perry has the opening to upend the “kid’s table” mantra and show where the adults in the presidential race are gathering to debate. It could be his chance to turn his unlucky streak around – or not. His very bad week isn’t over yet.