Even with the participation of Texas Governor Rick Perry, yesterday’s Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California was a standard-issue affair. Candidates traded barbs on everything from the individual mandate—they hate it, in case you were wondering—to climate change and economic growth.

There was one moment in the evening, however, that went beyond the usual grandstanding of primary debates and became something a little more disturbing. Sometime toward the end of the debate, moderator Brian Williams noted the 234 inmates that sit on death row in Texas prisons—more than any other state in the country. This, oddly, prompted immediate applause from the audience. Williams’ question, directed to Rick Perry, was this, “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?” Perry’s answer? “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process.”

Again, the crowd went wild with applause, and when asked to account for the audience response, Perry told the moderators that he thinks “Americans understand justice.”

The whole exchange was incredible. Perry, a noted skeptic of government solutions, nonetheless believes in the infallibility of the state when it comes to killing people. The audience—a hodgepodge of Republican elites—were positively enthusiastic about the Texas track record for executing people.

Mitt Romney came off well during the debates, but he had nothing like this—Rick Perry was the only candidate on stage to fully tap into the conservative id. Say what you will about his electability in a general election—I doubt he can win—but this is a sign that Rick Perry is still on track to win the Republican nomination for president.