Rick Perry
Credit: Paul Sancya/AP Images


That’s how Gov. Rick Perry capped his 53 seconds of horror during last night’s Republican debate, when he couldn’t recall the third department of government that he intended to axe once he became president. It was painful to watch for supporters of the Texas governor, but also for anyone who’s ever blanked or fumbled for words in front of an audience. On the scale of 1 to 10 Stockdales, it was a solid 9.3.

What’s a Stockdale, you ask? Well, it’s a fictional unit of measurement that rates the campaign-killing effects of a politician’s televised blunder. Its namesake, Admiral James Stockdale, was Ross Perot’s vice-presidential candidate in 1992, when the Texas billionaire mounted a third-party bid against incumbent George Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. In his one debate with Dan Quayle and Al Gore, the former Vietnam POW began with a lighthearted joke, “Who am I? Why am I here?” That helped lower the bar of expectations, but from there, he stumbled badly, repeatedly losing his train of thought and appearing confused when his hearing aid malfunctioned. His debate performance became the standard, a solid 8.9 in what became known as the Stockdale Scale. Watch it below:

Of course, Stockdale didn’t invent the televised political hiccup. Four years earlier, Michael Dukakis’ passionless response to a hypothetical about the death penalty if his wife was raped (5.3 Stockdales) cost him support. In 1976, President Gerald Ford raised everyone’s eyebrows during a debate with challenger Jimmy Carter when he insisted that there was no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe (4.6 Stockdales).

Sometimes, the Stockdale can be a product of confidence: Al Gore sighing condescendingly at George Bush’s political proposals (5.7 Stockdales); Barack Obama telling Hillary Clinton that she’s “likable enough” (3.7 Stockdales).

To date, there’s been only one perfect-10 Stockdale: Arizona governor Jan Brewer during a 2010 debate against Terry Goddard. It’s difficult to watch — and more difficult to learn that she still won the election.

How would you rate Rick Perry’s gaffe on the Stockdale Scale? If he scores again, should we change the name to the Perry Poll?

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