There was a point at which Rick Perry was arguably the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. That point was August 2011.
Things haven’t gone particularly well for the Texan ever since. As Rachel explained on the show last night, Perry’s campaign unraveled four years ago – it was in trouble long before the GOP candidate’s infamous “oops” moment – and though he was a marginally better candidate this time around, the former governor has struggled mightily since launching his second national bid in June.
MSNBC’s David Taintor reported late yesterday that Perry, left with no credible chance at success, suspended his 2016 campaign.
“When I gave my life to Christ, I said your ways are greater than my ways, your will is superior to mine. Today I submit to you his will remains a mystery, but some things have become and become very clear to me, that is why today I am suspending my campaign for the presidency of the United States,” Perry said in a speech in St. Louis.
He added, “We have a tremendous field of candidates, probably the greatest group of men and women. I step aside knowing our party’s in good hands.”
I’ve seen some reports noting that Perry did not technically withdraw from the race, choosing instead to “suspend” his campaign, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a distinction without a difference. The former governor’s national ambitions are finished.
Perry is the first candidate to depart the historically massive 2016 field, which is itself emblematic of a larger truth. In a year in which the leading GOP candidates never served a day in public office, the first candidate to quit is the one who has the most executive-level experience (Perry was governor of one the nation’s largest states for a record 14 years).
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another struggling presidential hopeful, said on Twitter last night, “What does it say about Republicans when a three-and-a-half-term governor with a successful record of creating jobs bows out, as a reality star leads in the polls?”
Under the circumstances, that’s not an unreasonable question.
Ordinarily, when a high-profile presidential candidate effectively withdraws from the race, there’s a brief scramble from the remaining candidates to pick up his or her supporters and top staffers. That’s not really an issue with Perry – at the risk of sounding unkind, his departure doesn’t affect race too much, since the Texas Republican’s support was so weak.
What’s more, Perry’s campaign operation had already torn down nearly all of its infrastructure – the remaining staffers haven’t been paid for weeks, and campaign headquarters were already closed – so the transition from candidate to non-candidate status should be fairly seamless for everyone involved.
As for why Perry failed so spectacularly, I don’t think there’s any great mystery here. For one thing, GOP voters seem wholly unimpressed by candidates with a lengthy career in public service. For another, Perry was offering a far-right platform that was indistinguishable from other, newer, fresher faces, untarnished by failures from the last election cycle.
The former Texas governor, who also happened to be the first candidate in modern history to seek the presidency while under criminal indictment, thought he had a second chance to make a first impression. He was mistaken.
Postscript: A handful of very wealthy donors invested millions of dollars into Perry’s super PAC, making an early gamble that he’d be a credible presidential contender. A few months later, it appears those who wrote seven-figure checks made a very bad bet.