Op-ed: One down; who's next?

Now that Rick Perry has won the contest for the first to give up, he leaves behind several questions: First, of course, is “Who cares?” Other than Perry and maybe Ted Cruz. The eyes of Texas are only on Cruz now that his in-state rival has gone back home on the range. And what about those glasses Perry wore? Were they really for improving his eyesight, or were they an affectation to convince skeptics that he wasn’t as dumb as a stump? Will he continue to wear them, or will he return them and try to get his money back? Speaking of money, what will his sugar daddies (and mommies) do with the millions of dollars they funneled into the “independent” PACs that supported him? Unfortunately, that cash couldn’t be tapped to keep his campaign afloat, or to pay any staffers. So Rick Perry becomes the first one to ride into that sunset he says looks so good from his front porch.

 

The biggest question of all, though, is, Who’s next? So many candidates, so much time. Will it be one of the almosts, like Jim Gilmore and George Pataki, aka “Jim and George Who?” Gilmore didn’t even make it into the B-team debate on CNN, and Pataki barely did, along with Perry (before he bailed), Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham. Any of these guys is a candidate to become the next non-candidate, but you never know.

Maybe one of them can pull a Carly Fiorina and perform so memorably that they rise from the ashes of the ash-can debate and join the grown-ups in future encounters. As a matter of fact, the one who just might pull that off is Lindsey Graham. First of all, he’s got some substance, he’s not dogmatic and, most importantly, he is funny as all get-out. He even likes to make jokes about himself; he doesn’t need a Donald Trump to ridicule him. Even when Trump tried to, by famously releasing Graham’s cellphone number, Graham got the last laugh with a video showing him demonstrating the different ways to destroy his phone. Oh yeah, now you remember, that Lindsey Graham.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t done anything all that exciting since then, and he barely made the cut for the JV debate. But watch him and get a couple yucks.

He won’t have much competition in the comedy department from Jindal or Santorum. Neither is known for his sense of humor, or sense of much else. They’re interesting types, though. Santorum comes across, particularly with the sweaters he wears, as an amiable soul, like maybe Mr. Rogers, at least until you hear his take on morality and cultural issues. Then it’s a beautiful day in the 16th or 17th century. As for Jindal, he seems to be wound scarily tight.

Maybe we should really look to the main event for who’s next to flame out. Scott Walker must somehow stand out if he’s going to reverse his nose dive. Every time he opens his mouth, he seems to get in trouble. And lately he’s become like that cliche about the weather: If you don’t like his position on something, wait 10 minutes, and it’ll change.

Standing out is going to be really tough since most of the attention will be focused on The Donald and The Carly. Will Trump continue being a male chauvinist pig when Fiorina is standing just a few feet away? And what about Ben Carson, who has been a big hit as the kindly doctor who is soft-spoken, which is good, because much of what he speaks softly is drivel.

What the three of them have in common is that they’ve never held office, and inexperience is now a desirable qualification. The Republican primary debate Wednesday night will provide so much melodrama that CNN can expect a huge audience to rival the Fox News Donald Trump-Megyn Kelly Snark-O-Rama. Among those who presumably will be watching on Sept. 16 will be Rick Perry. The rest of us can decide who will be the next to join him on the sidelines.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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