On paper, at least, Texas Gov. Rick Perry would seem to have been a formidable candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. He had run a number of successful statewide campaigns in Texas and seemed to have solid conservative credentials.
But a series of inexplicable gaffes quickly derailed Perry's campaign, turning a powerful frontrunner into the butt of late-night jokes.
Sleep disorder derailed Perry campaign
The Texas Tribune reports that a hitherto undisclosed sleep disorder known as sleep apnea had impaired the Texas governor, causing him to make numerous gaffes in debates and on the stump. According to an account on CNN, the condition was aggravated by Perry's back surgery that caused him to relax his strenuous exercise regime. Perry had always considered himself a light sleeper, but with lack of exercise and an unexplained pain in his leg and foot had rendered him an insomniac.
Incoherent New Hampshire speech causes concern
A speech at Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire, which took place in November 2011 was so incoherent that some pundits, including Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, openly wondered whether Rick Perry was on drugs or alcohol according to CNN. Perry at the time denied that he had been drinking or had taken drugs, even pain medication for the back surgery that was known to the media at the time.
The "oops moment"
The one event that defined the Perry campaign took place a few days later during a debate in Michigan, according to the New York Times. Perry, in answer to a question, began to list the cabinet departments that he would like to eliminate. He named Commerce and Education and then seemed to have a brain freeze on the third, which turned out later to be Energy. But during the painful-to-watch display, Perry was unable at that moment to summon from his memory what the third department was, so he said, "oops."
Sleep apnea diagnosis
Ironically, by the times of the New Hampshire and Michigan incidents, Perry had already been diagnosed with sleep apnea, according to the Texas Tribune. Sleep apnea is a condition that blocks the breathing passages, causing the suffering to stop breathing during attempts to sleep and wake up periodically in the middle of the night. Perry had likely had the condition for decades, but had kept it at bay with his exercise regime. Having stopped exercising due to the back surgery, the sleep apnea came forth with a vengeance. Perry had been prescribed a CPAP, a mask that forces air through the breathing passages. But by then it was too late.
But for an accident of history, a bad back and a sleep disorder diagnosed too late, Rick Perry might well be the Republican nominee instead of Mitt Romney. How that might have altered the current campaign is one of the unknown counterfactuals of history.
Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.