Rick Perry, a doofus, became the first Republican presidential candidate to drop out of the 2016 race on Friday. After failing to raise enough money to pay his campaign staffers, and faced with the prospect of spending his second nationally televised debate at the equivalent of kids’ table, the former governor of Texas had little choice but to bow out.
The 2016 race was not Perry’s first rodeo, nor was it the first time he lost a rodeo in a humiliating fashion. So why is it that after Perry’s embarrassing 2012 campaign, and before his embarrassing 2016 campaign, it became hip, in the political press, to declare that Rick Perry was now a serious man with a legitimate shot at the presidency?
“Everything Is Aligned”
As we now know, the answer to that question turned out to be, “yes, anyone — literally anyone at all — could stop him.” At the time, that was apparently not clear. Miller argued:
It looks like everything is aligned for Rick Perry to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016.
He’ll be a 14-year retired governor of a prosperous state with a long list of accomplishments following on a former Senator who has demonstrated difficulty managing the federal government. He can start his campaign early this time and has his back condition under control (so no pain, or painkillers). He’s run for president once before—a tried and true way to build name recognition. And there’s been a Texan on the ticket in six of the last 14 presidential cycles—and there were two in 1988. He’s a prodigious fundraiser, tapping into Texas wealth like no other.
In the real world, Perry the “prodigious fundraiser” couldn’t keep up with his rivals, especially the much more prodigious Jeb Bush, and he stopped paying his campaign staffers weeks ago, due to lack of funds.
“The New Rick Perry”
Miller was not the only pundit to swallow Perry’s “second chance” rhetoric. In August 2014, National Journal’s Michelle Cottle published an almost fawning profile of the candidate with the headline, “The New Rick Perry.” After twelve paragraphs on Perry’s glasses and how he came to wear them, Cottle went on to argue that Rick Perry had all the right stuff to win in 2016.
“If he runs again, Perry isn’t going to be a dilettante campaigner,” she wrote. Per Cottle, Perry was working hard (he went to Iowa more than once!); he stopped taking the “back pain medication” that he blamed for his fateful 2012 debate fuck-up; and also: “one Perry asset that was largely obscured in 2012 is just how charming he can be one-on-one.”
Perhaps Rick Perry’s one percent of support in most polls represents the total number of voters who had a chance to spend some one-on-one time with Rick Perry. He didn’t seem to charm anyone else.
“Perry’s Biggest Advantage”
Elsewhere, David Frum at The Atlantic and Adam Wollner at National Journal argued that Perry’s military experience and foreign policy “expertise” would set him apart from the 2016 crowd.
“[T]here is one item in Perry’s background that makes him a rarity in the presidential race: his military service,” Wollner noted in a piece tied to Perry’s official campaign announcement. He argued that this would help his 2016 chances by publishing several quotes from Perry’s campaign manager and Perry supporters saying that this would help his 2016 chances.
Frum’s take, published in October 2014, was that Perry’s “biggest advantage in 2016” would be his foreign policy credentials. You see, “unlike many Washington-based competitors for the foreign-policy-hawk vote, Perry has not left any fingerprints on the budget plans that are cutting the Army and Marines to their smallest size since 1940.”
Perry did not get the chance to tout this accomplishment, because his poll numbers never afforded him an invitation to a prime time GOP debate.
Kate Nocera at Buzzfeed and Dana Bash at CNN predicted in the summer of 2014 that the border crisis would be Perry’s “second act.” Sources “close to Perry” told Nocera that publicly pushing to secure the border would give Perry “the chance to change the subject from his ‘oops’ moments and remind people why they thought he had a good shot before his 2012 dreams were derailed.”
Bash predicted that Perry’s tactic of calling out President Obama could be “political resurrection.” At a congressional hearing in July 2014, Perry said, with his typical complexity: “My message to President Obama is to secure this border, Mr. President. Finally address this issue and secure this border.”
And the crowd went wild! (Perhaps.) But on immigration, Perry would be outflanked by the conspicuous racism of Donald Trump. It turned out GOP voters much prefer a television personality loudly advocating ethnic cleansing to a career politician promising merely to secure the border.
“Bespectacled and More Sober”
Pundits’ predictions that Perry would lead the 2016 field were ultimately based on feeling. He’s charming; he seems serious; he’s from Texas; Texas feels rich; something something Air Force vet. Where did all these positive feelings about Rick Perry, that were so absent during 2012, come from?
He was “looking defiant and in command” during a TV appearance to discuss his indictment, Rubin noted. He seemed “well-positioned for a second run.” Yes, Rick Perry looked different:
Even before the spurious indictment, Perry, bespectacled and more sober than his 2012 incarnation, was already showing he was not the candidate who ran last time around.
Rick Perry seemed like a serious candidate to our nation’s political experts because he was wearing glasses.