NBC's "Saturday Night Live" did a Perry parody last weekend that was widely viewed.
In recent days, the candidate started to take his message directly to the voters by running sunny biographical television ads in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. It's an effort to reintroduce himself to Republican primary voters in a safer setting that circumvents the news media.
Wednesday's was the latest tough debate for the GOP candidate who has struggled in the national spotlight since entering the race in August, the last time he was at the top of polls. His standing has fallen throughout the fall, and he's fighting to gain ground less than two months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses.
He has committed to four more debates in a year when the GOP electorate is clearly tuned into them, but his advisers are considering skipping future ones.
Presidential debates have offered pivotal moments for decades, from Al Gore's audible sighs in 2000 to Michael Dukakis' tepid answer about the death penalty in 1988.
A statement by Gerald Ford in a 1976 presidential debate is among the most memorable, however. Ford famously baffled audiences when he said, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." Later pressed by the moderator, he refused to back down. The moment haunted the rest of his losing campaign.
Publicly, Perry aides sought to downplay Wednesday night's shaky answer.
"We had a stumble of style and not substance," insisted Ray Sullivan, Perry's top communications adviser. "He still named two more agencies than this president" would eliminate.
Perry had no public schedule on Thursday and planned to raise money privately at events in Tennessee. His next public campaign stops were scheduled in South Carolina on Friday -- a day before yet another debate.