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Today’s (October 26) New York Times reported that a spokesman of GOP presidential candidate, Rick Perry suggested possibility that Mr. Perry might not participate in all of the upcoming debates.

According to the article titled “Perry May Curtail Role in Coming Debates”, Mr. Perry told Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, “It's pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one minute response,” and added, “So, you know, if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one,”

As I’m not got used to the usages of “ever,” I’m not clear with the exact meaning of “it was probably ever doing one.” What is the implication and function of ever?

Does this line mean “I may repeat the same mistake again”? Is the subject (it) in the subordinate clause the whole antecedent clause, or “mistake”? If it is the latter, why an inanimate object, “the mistake” can take “do one (mistake)”?

Structure-wise, this line doesn’t seem to me to agree with grammar. Can you explain what this line exactly means, and if the line is grammatically acceptable or not?

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2 Answers 2

The phrase needs to be understood in the proper context. The article states:

Mr. Miner’s comments follow ones by his candidate on Tuesday night in which Mr. Perry expressed regret for participating in the debates... “These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates,” Mr. Perry told Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. “It [sic] pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one minute response. So, you know, if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one,” Mr. Perry added.

"Ever doing one" refers to him having participated in a debate. He is essentially saying, "it was a mistake to have ever participated in a debate."
And ever is used here to mean "at all." It was a mistake for him to have participated at all in the debate.

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Reading your answer, I’m tempted to interpret the line as “If I had made a mistake, it’s probably that I have participated in the debates that forced me to lay out my idea and my concept in one minute response, which was totally unreasonable requirement.” I’m not sure whether I’m nearing right interpretation or not. I feel like doing English translation assignment in high school at age of late 70. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 27 '11 at 9:19
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That's right, you've interpreted it correctly. –  Mark Oct 27 '11 at 9:32

I searched for the quote "So, you know, if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one," and found a fuller quote from the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one-minute response,” he said. “So, you know, if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one of the campaigns [debates] when all they’re interested in is stirring it up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.”

He's saying the mistake, if one was made, was taking part in a debate in the first place because there's no way you can adequately describe your ideas in the brief time given.

By "if there was a mistake made", he really means "if I made a mistake", but of course politicians rarely admit a mistake. Actually, he might even mean "I made a mistake" but is deflecting it twice by saying "if" and using the passive rather than active voice.

Also, in this full quote, he said "ever doing one of the campaigns", and the WSJ has inserted "[debates]" to make it clear what he really meant. Some other news sites simply deleted the jargon "campaigns" and replaced it with the correct "[debates]".

Next, moving the word "ever" makes its use clearer. From the original:

if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one of the campaigns

To:

if ever there was a mistake made, it was probably doing one of the [debates]

"Ever" means "at any time". He's saying if a mistake was made at any time, it was taking part in such a debate.

Finally, televised debates are often criticised for similar reasons. Not only can it can be hard to get across policy and ideas around complex issues, but they can end up becoming personality contests. (For more, see this paper called Images vs. Issues in Presidential Debates.)

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I'm constantly amazed by the number of politician who claim they want to "debate the issues", where in fact all they want to do is win the personality contest which is really all democratic voting has ever been about. –  FumbleFingers Oct 27 '11 at 13:10
    
@FumbleFingers Democracy, the least worst option. –  Hugo Oct 27 '11 at 14:20

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