Rick Perry
Texas Gov. and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry. REUTERS/Scott Audette

Rick Perry may have come in like a lion, but he's close to going out of the Republican presidential nominee race as a lamb.

It became evident at Tuesday night's GOP debate that 2011 isn't going to be the year for Perry, the Texas governor who stormed into the lead in polls in August shortly after announcing his bid for the party's presidential nomination. For one brief spell, it was Rick Perry this, and Rick Perry that.

But then the debates began.

Oops. Somebody forgot to note that debates aren't Perry's strong point. Perry reportedly said Tuesday night, after visiting with 100 or so fraternity brothers at the GOP debate at Dartmouth sponsored by Bloomberg and The Washington Post, that debates are not my strong suit.

And that's a bit of a problem when you are running for President of the United States and hope to win. Debates are often the only time many Americans get a good look and feel for the candidates.

It's not that Perry performed poorly in this week's GOP debate. It's just that Perry didn't overwhelm, or do anything much to stand out. He's just there, answering the questions unable to rise above the mix and mass of opponents, including front-runner Mitt Romney and fast-rising Herman Cain.

In late July and throughout August, the GOP race seemed to be between Romney and Perry. Critics suggested Perry was a God-squad rock star candidate, who filled the air with his famous Perryisms. He suggested President Barack Obama wasn't passionate about America, and that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is treasonous. People went crazy, in both good and bad ways for Perry -- but his star shot to the top of most polls.

Now we don't get the Perryisms, or the God talk. It's just Rick -- without the flair.

The public apparently liked Rick with the flair, considering since he began appearing in debates his political star is falling fast. Cain has moved to even or ahead of Perry in most every poll, since beating Perry in a Florida straw poll vote that stunned many. Cain talks about his 9-9-9 tax plan and rockets go off around him.

Cain's 9/9/9 plan is so effective because it has no details to skip, Todd Harris, an unaligned Republican strategist, told The Washington Post. It's easy to understand, easy to remember, and for a lot of people it makes a lot of sense. It probably has economic PhDs rolling their eyes, but a lot of voters are nodding their heads.

Perry talks about anything these days and it plays as rather dull.

In last night's debate, it was as if Perry wasn't even on the stage most of the time, wrote Nolan Hicks, of the Houston Chronicle.

Or here's one from Politico columnist Roger Simon after Tuesday night's debate: Rick Perry wants a brain.

Or maybe he needs to just start talking brainless again. The Perryisms seemed to be working just fine a couple of months ago. Then, he roared in polls like a lion. Now, he just babbles in debates like a lamb.