Adios, Mofo: Perry Cashes Out

Governor Rick Perry speaks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
Governor Rick Perry speaks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

The verdict, at long, long last, is in. All the armies of former Governor Rick Perry, his campaign team and his super PACs in all their glory — Opportunity and Freedom PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC I, and Opportunity and Freedom PAC II — could not make an imprint in Iowa cornfields or win over a room in Manchester in the trial of a hundred days. Well, 99 days.

What’s left to be said about James Richard Perry? His announcement that he’d abandon his bid for the White House late Friday afternoon might truly, finally, mark the end of his 30 years in public life. He kicked off his last chapter on June 4 in a hot, humid airplane hangar in Addison, where an ex-military transport plane had been flown in from Arizona to serve as an expensive prop. Then, his path to the nomination — essentially to wait, work and pray — was shaky, but plausible enough. It was shaping up to be a chaotic year. Sure. Why not?

He had, of course, ended his first run for the White House a laughingstock, and he sought diligently to undo that image. He tried to talk seriously about foreign and domestic policy and the future and viability of the Republican Party. He positioned himself as something of a moderate. It didn’t match up so well with his history as governor, or even his run in 2012, but what presidential candidate is true to themselves? At any rate, it was always hard to say who Perry was — what he stood for — apart from the inheritance, preservation and use of power.

Twelve days after Perry announced, Donald Trump did the same, and the summer has belonged to him. If Perry had a slim chance of winning to start with, the Trumpaissance eroded that chance even further. Trump won’t win, but he proves Republican primary voters are in the mood for blood this year, and he’ll be sucking up GOP oxygen for a while yet. Perry just isn’t selling what’s in vogue this season.

But if Perry ran first to win and second to redeem himself, he stumbled there, too.

He did OK in the beginning. Republican gatekeepers praised some of his remarks on the future of the party. But he soon found himself a punchline again. Stories about staffing difficulties stemming from money problems — his PACs had cash, but not his campaign account, which is regulated by stricter rules and limits — led to a drip-drip-drip of dispatches about defecting staff, unpaid campaign workers and internal dissent.

Verbal slips started to accumulate, as they had in the old days. The narrative that Perry was well-meaning but essentially a bit dim wouldn’t die. The second impression he hoped to make did not, ultimately, overwrite the first.

Perry’s supporters will say money was the main problem in the coming weeks, and there’ll be sad stories about the unjust and unfair nature of politics. Was Perry too good for this world, they’ll ask? Rick will be fine. He should know that politics is cruel: He’s been the one wielding the meat cleaver too many times not to know.

The money was one problem, surely. But Perry could have stayed in the race indefinitely with little money — giving speeches, shaking hands, seeing if the winds change. That’s what most of the GOP candidates will do. At a certain point, the field will winnow down and more voices will be heard. There is, after all, more time left before any votes are cast in Iowa than in the whole of Perry’s 2016 campaign. Perry’s rapid withdrawal is an acknowledgement that the premise of the thing wasn’t working. He’ll now be able to use the money left in his PACs to his or the party’s benefit.

But while the posthumous honors for Perry might be somewhat overwrought, there’ll also be a fair amount of schadenfreude from right-wingers who never liked Perry and see his (probable) final defeat as a victory that leaves more room for the good guys. This is shortsighted, too. The Republican primary will be as deeply poisonous and stupid tomorrow as it was today. Something appears to be deeply wrong with the party itself, and while Perry might not have been the cure, he was at least saying the right words and making the right noises.

Perry served 30 years in state government, from the time he ascended to the Texas House of Representatives in 1985 to the termination of his renter’s agreement at the governor’s mansion in 2015. That experience is not inherently good, but consider this: On the day he dropped out, a Quinnipiac poll in Iowa recorded what Republican voters want now. Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina have 62 percent of the GOP vote. Between the four of them, there’s about two-and-a-half years of experience in public office — all belonging to Cruz — and that experience largely consists of shouting and/or reading children’s books in an empty room while C-SPAN cameras whir softly.

Later, Rick. See you around the way.

Christopher Hooks is a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

Published at 7:49 pm CST