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Rick Perry's Painfully Awkward Speech at CPAC

When you start a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference with the following joke and get a paltry smattering of forced laughs in response, you know you're off on the wrong foot.

When I came in, I said, "Which way do you want me to go?" and they said, "You just have to go left," and I said, "I don't go left well at all."

Your silence right now is almost an echo of the crowd's response. Ouch, not least of all because Perry may not have known which side of the stage he was on. The rest of his speech last week was not much better. He stumbled over a joke about how he's surprised there are still people in Washington given the sequester and how Obama's only good idea would have been sending them all home. Classic knee-slapper. He erroneously accused the president of releasing criminals in a "federally sponsored jailbreak" to make a point about the sequester, railed on about freedom and noted that Europe is a nice place to "vacate" but a bad example of government. Rick Perry is dumb.

George Bush Without a Brain also dished out some terrible advice to conservatives, arguing that the Republican candidates in the last two presidential elections were not "real conservatives," so there is no need for a Republican message change. That's advice the Democratic Party will benefit greatly from; Republicans have been far too conservative in recent years, utterly and verifiably out of step with Americans on almost every issue. Perry's second piece of advice: to win Hispanic votes, don't change the Republican message on anything! He recited the usual boilerplate about how Hispanics don't want government involvement in their lives and they do want family values. That means corporatist governance and Republicans making decisions about Americans' love and bodies. So basically, the governor's message was: don't change the message, but if you do, make it even more conservative. Chuckle with me as we keep winning elections.

Rick Perry has the aura of a school kid trying to live down that one time last year he wet his pants in the school spelling bee with an expanded vocabulary; he's got a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. The speech overcompensated for what Perry's best known for - being a complete idiot - with profligate policy talk. It was almost uncomfortable to watch the compensation and anxious folksiness.

What's interesting about watching Perry is trying to figure out how he thinks he's coming across. This is a guy most widely known for a loud and deadly brain fart on national television in the midst of one of American history's worst presidential campaigns. To even float the possibility of running for president again, as he has done repeatedly, is the sign of a man convinced he's been wronged who wants to regain his dignity. He comes across in recent speeches as his normal, idiotically bubbly self, but there's an undertone of injury there now. Perry's "oops" moment may have been the low point of his campaign, but it wasn't the start of his epic stumble. From the first, Perry ran a terrible campaign and his uncomfortable folksiness did nothing to help him. His openly bigoted anti-gay "Strong" ad made him a reviled national figure. All of this must have hurt his obvious sense of boundless charm more than a little.

A presidential campaign begun for the purpose of making the candidate feel better is bound to end in disaster, and that's a bridge we'll all be both amused and horrified about when we see it. Right now, Perry's leaning hard into both folksiness and policy talk to regain both his likability and his pre-2012 stature among conservatives. The problem is that he isn't likable, he knows nothing about policy, and even the cretins at CPAC know he's one of their least viable candidates. There was a complete lack of support for another Perry presidential run at CPAC.

After his speech, Real Clear Politics asked several conservatives whether they'd support another Perry run and couldn't find a single one who would. "No, not at all," Langston Bowens of of the Young Tea Party Patriots said. "Rick Perry's a good guy, but I think it's time the party steps away from Rick Perry, the Bushes, the Romneys, and begin to focus more on [Marco] Rubio, Rand Paul, and taking a stance on issues that all Americans can get behind. Perry's definitely the old guard."

"Let's be honest: I think he'd be a great guy to have a beer with, but I don't think he's the leader we need in this country," Matt Hernberg of the New Jersey College Republicans said. "We need a leader that is more articulate and can better substantiate what they believe in."

No, you need a leader who rejects the vast majority of what your party stands for. But at least you see that Perry's an embarrassment. Welcome to America.

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