It was a given that there were going to be dropouts from the Republican field before we got to the first primary; it was just a matter of waiting to see who it would be.

Rick Perry is kind of a fascinating figure to be the first drop out. He went into the process once before, bombed abysmally in his first spotlight moment–just when GOP primary voters were desperately looking for an anti-Romney to rally around–and carefully prepped through the succeeding four years to avoid that kind of failure, only to not just lose again but to become the very first dropout. He blamed his 2012 flameout on back surgery and painkillers, and for all that I don’t much like the man, I find that believable. 2012 may have just been a matter of bad timing. But that doesn’t explain 2016

He’s not an incompetent politician or campaigner, having never previously lost an election and having served a record 14 years as Texas’ governor. He comes from the second most populous state in the country, a good base, and a state that has given us three presidents previously (four if you count Ike, but he was only born there, growing up in Kansas).

But he never got any momentum, polling at around 1%. Worse, money wasn’t coming in to his campaign, indicating that those who make strong campaigns possible through financing didn’t see him as a good prospect.

Let me make that clear. The big money doesn’t just go to people the big money likes–it goes to people they think have a chance, because whomever wins they want to have an open door with them, and money is the key that fits the lock. Perry’s lack of fundraising success doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like him, but that they don’t think he had a chance.

But Perry didn’t connect on the national stage, and I’m no sure why. Maybe it’s because he tried to be a Tea Partier who was moderate on immigration. Maybe, unlike George W. Bush, he played his Texan image wrongly. W used the Texas image in a Reaganesque way, working on his ranch to buff a no-nonsense down-to-earth blue collar persona, while Perry seemed to portray a Texas that is arrogant, insular and sneering toward the rest of the country. Both Texases are real, but only one plays well.

Maybe it’s because he really is an intellectual lightweight, and in more local elections that was part of his strength because he didn’t come off as an egghead, but when he put on the smart glasses to gussy himself up he came off as playing a role, losing the desired sense of “authenticity.”

There’ll be lots of speculation, but there’ll be no hard evidence, just stories that are told more or less persuasively. Jumping into the presidential race is a crapshoot. Former VP Dan Quayle did all the right moves in the first years of the Clinton presidency to set himself up for a 1996 presidential run, criss-crossing the country talking to conservative groups and setting up grassroots organizations in the early primary states. And he’d proven in both his House and Senate campaigns in Indiana that he was an effective hard-working campaigner. But in the end he folded up shop before he ever publicly announced he was running; before most people ever became aware that he was running. The story I’ve heard is that the more people listened to him the less impressed they became.

Just as athletes are sometimes standouts in college while failing in the pros, sometimes politicians play well locally but just lack that special something that makes a person successful at higher levels.

That’s not profound. But I think anyone looking for profundity in the rise and decline of presidential aspirants is looking in the wrong place.


Category: Statehouse

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5 Responses to The Crapshoot: An Off-the-Cuff Reaction to Perry’s Withdrawal

  1. Trumwill says:

    I had no idea that Quayle even moved towards running in ’96. I always thought he just deliberately waited until 2000 to put done distance between him an his reputation.

  2. SFG says:

    “That’s not profound. But I think anyone looking for profundity in the rise and decline of presidential aspirants is looking in the wrong place.”

    I think you have a yuge point there.

  3. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    [Texas] has given us three presidents previously

    Counting Bush 41?

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