Byron York

But it doesn't work that way. Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito didn't have to cram at the last minute for their hearings. Each had a lifetime of experience and thinking at the highest levels of the law, and their task was to organize the knowledge they already had to prepare for confirmation questioning. The important thing was, the knowledge was there. The thinking had already been done. Miers, on the other hand, wasn't prepared and finally dropped out.

There's no doubt that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has thought a long, long time about being president. Romney can tell you, at any level of generality or detail you want, why he is running and what he would do if he won. He adjusts to new issues and questions by building on all the preparation he's already done.

For Romney, debate preparation involves taking all the things he has already thought through and finding the most effective way to present them in one-minute answers. For Perry, debate preparation is trying to learn new stuff about national issues that he should have been thinking about a long time ago.

It's often pointed out that since Perry entered the Republican race late, on Aug. 13, he had little time to build a campaign organization and hone a campaign pitch. That's true, but the fact is, if Perry wanted to be president, he should have been thinking seriously about the substance of national issues -- not just fundraising and state party chairmen -- years before he declared his candidacy.

Now Perry is paying the price for that lack of preparation. And if that, in fact, is the real problem behind his poor debate performances, then he's not going to improve as a candidate in the next few weeks. It's far too late for that.

Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner