Rick Perry gaffe steals spotlight at Republican debate

Perry stumbled when he couldn't name a third program he plans to cut if he's elected.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is trying to turn his debate gaffe into a talking point about a supersized government.

The Republican presidential candidate in an NBC "Today" interview that his forgetfulness in a Michigan debate was not a shining moment.

But he also cited "so many agencies of government that I'd like to forget." Perry appeared a day after he declared three governmental agencies should be eliminated, but could only cite two — Commerce and Education. He has stated previously he'd close the Energy Department.

But in Thursday's interview, he sought to turn his lapse in thinking to his advantage. Perry said the slip-up helps him make his major campaign point. Perry said, "It just surely gets to the core of the line — that we've got so much government out there."

On Wednesday night, in the wake of his gaffe, Rick Perry says he "stepped in it." Now he's trying to clean off his boot.

The Texas governor was looking to stem any fallout Thursday from a major misstep he made the night before during a GOP presidential debate.

Perry said he would eliminate three federal agencies but struggled to name them.

"Commerce, Education and the — what's the third one there? Let's see," the Texas governor said.

Perry's rivals tried to bail him out, suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency.

"EPA, there you go," Perry said, seemingly taking their word for it.

But that wasn't it. And when pressed, the candidate drew another blank.

"Seriously?" moderator John Harwood, one of the CNBC debate hosts, asked. "You can't name the third one?"

"The third agency of government I would do away with — the Education, the Commerce. And let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't," Perry said. "Oops."

Later in the debate, Perry revisited the question and said he meant to call for the elimination of the Energy Department.

The immediate fallout was brutal — at least on Twitter.

"Perry response will be on highlight reels for years to come," business legend Jack Welch tweeted.

"Off screen, Dr. (Ron) Paul is sadly administering the last rites to Rick Perry," Republican strategist Mike Murphy added. "Dr. Paul filling out paperwork as they haul Perry away. He's ruling it a suicide."

"Rick Perry just lost the debate. And the entire election. You only had to name three," Tim Albrecht, the top spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is unaligned in the GOP race, tweeted from his personal account.

After the debate, Perry appeared to be in damage control mode.

In dramatic fashion, he bee-lined it to the "spin room" where a crush of reporters were gathered to interview campaign surrogates — and he immediately indicated that he knew he had made a really bad mistake. The first words out of his mouth as reporters crowded around: "I'm glad I had my boots on because I really stepped in it tonight."

Still, Perry almost seemed to minimize the impact, adding: "People understand that it is our conservative principles that matter."

"We all felt very bad for him," Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman also running for the nomination, said after the debate, calling the moment uncomfortable.

Cain apologizes for "Princess" crack

Meanwhile, fellow GOP candidate Herman Cain is apologizing for calling the House minority leader "Princess Nancy."

During a debate Wednesday night, Cain said Nancy Pelosi blocked any effort when she was speaker of the House to repeal Democrats' health care overhaul, legislation she helped marshal through. Republicans have since captured control of the House during 2010s midterm elections.

After the debate, he told CNBC he "probably should not have made" that comment.

Cain is facing allegations of unwanted sexual advances and his mocking of the first female House speaker comes as he is trying to steady his presidential bid.

Earlier on Twitter, the former pizza company executive repeated the "Princess Nancy" label as the debate continued.