The truth is, when he came in fifth in Iowa despite blowing most of his stack the game was over. Perry’s campaign died when Iowa’s ethanol welfare queens and pray-for-pay evangelical leaders – who operate in exactly the same way that black preachers do for Democrats – opted to back Rick Santorum’s campaign instead of the Texas Governor’s.
Of course, since Perry was unapologetically hostile to ethanol he was going to have trouble winning Iowa. There is a constituency against ethanol in that state, and probably enough of one to finish in the top tier there, but his principled stand against a policy which is economically, technically, morally and even environmentally unjustifiable kept him from achieving the resurgence he could have.
There is a path available for a real conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. That alternative should have been Perry, whose record in Texas is replete with both success and solid conservatism. Perry got hit on that record with a pair of complaints which should have been brushed off with little effort. At the very minimum the Gardasil issue was a judgement call on which conservatives of good will could agree to disagree, since the concept of public vaccination has long been accepted as a valid use of government power in promotion of public health. And the more serious complaint, the in-state tuition allowance for illegal alien kids in Texas opened up under Perry’s watch, was eminently explainable as a consensus-approved effort at making the best of a bad situation foisted on the Lone Star State by a broken federal immigration policy.
But Perry failed to explain Gardasil and lost altitude from Michele Bachmann’s demagogic firing from the lunatic fringe – “government injections” which “cause retardation” in 11 year olds should have validated Perry as a responsible executive running against gadfly bomb-throwers, but instead he somehow became a closet socialist in servitude of the evil Merck Pharmaceutical Corporation. What should have been laughable actually gained traction due to poor messaging.
And then he broke down and ruined himself by calling the critics of the in-state tuition program heartless – an error he almost immediately recognized and apologized for, but a grievous self-inflicted wound nonetheless. The correct formulation of the policy would be that the vast majority of illegals taking advantage of in-state college tuition were not at a UT-Austin or Texas A&M but rather Texas-Pan American, the University of Houston-Downtown Campus or San Jacinto Junior College, where the difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition is almost negligible; and by the way since those kids are American by all outward appearances, didn’t make a choice to come here when their parents opted to crash the border and can’t be shooed away from Texas the question is whether to invest in developing what talent they have or consign them to a hardscrabble existence. Perry wasn’t alone in choosing the former; there was a strong consensus in Texas to subsidize those kids both in the legislature and among the public. When Bachmann and Romney hammered on the issue, Perry missed the mark with his “heartless” comment – rather than aim at his opponents he ended up hitting conservative voters who would be his constituents in this election. It was a disaster.
What was worse was the 50-odd second brain freeze in which Perry couldn’t remember that the Department of Energy was the third federal agency he’d close as president. That was a real shame, as Perry is correct in noting America functioned just fine without a Department of Education or Energy prior to their construction in the Carter years and the Department of Commerce, though of longer lineage, doesn’t particularly perform functions of vital necessity in times of government austerity. By the time of that mental shutdown a creeping public perception of Perry as a dim bulb had already set in; Perry’s unimpressive college transcript from Texas A&M had already made its way into the public record and a number of goofy, if understandable, statements had hit the wires as well. When he couldn’t remember a key piece of his platform that perception was reinforced; Perry, the most successful conservative governor in America over the past decade, was a dunce.
Much of this was the typical treatment given to all of Mitt Romney’s opponents in this cycle – some from Romney’s team, and some from the media which decreed Romney to be the acceptable GOP candidate. Perry wasn’t given a fair hearing, but he also didn’t earn one. Come off as shaky while running for president and you’re going to suffer for it.
Perry’s campaign team failed to craft the kind of simple, articulable and popular message one would think would be quite easy for a movement conservative in this cycle. He proposed a Steve Forbes-inspired flat tax, then failed to show why it would work. He didn’t articulate his views for a restructuring of the federal government around less agencies and more power devolved to the states. He stoked, properly, a controversy by calling Social Security the Ponzi scheme that it is without selling a real solution. And then he began proposing a muddled idea for a part-time Congress which had been the calling card of Lamar Alexander’s ill-fated 1988 presidential bid; Alexander didn’t explain any better than Perry has how one would convince Congress to limit its own power and money, and Alexander has now been in the Senate for well over a decade – as evidence of the sincerity behind his concept of a citizen legislator.
That was a lead balloon of an idea, and it went nowhere. Perry followed that up by suggesting American troops be redeployed in Iraq, against the wishes of some 80 percent of the public (Perry would be correct in noting that our withdrawal from Iraq is a strategic defeat of major proportions, but a renewed occupation there is a non-starter as anyone knows). And now, his me-too assault on Mitt Romney as a vulture capitalist…
I’m hardly the first to say this is indefensible. It’s a huge political mistake for Perry to join in with Newt Gingrich’s self-destructive attack on Romney’s supposed greed – and it’s even worse when you’re less articulate than Gingrich in making the weak case that an equity firm attempting to save failing companies is somehow evil.
Perry should have put himself in an outsider’s role and he wasn’t wrong to position himself as being opposed to K Street and Wall Street at the same time. But his execution has been atrocious, his message isn’t unique and his positioning is not to his advantage in a field where the people who really hate government are in love with Ron Paul and the social conservatives have fallen for Santorum’s I-martyred-myself-in-2006-thanks-to-my-strong-moral-views act.
In short, this is the GOP political version of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. It’s the most disappointing presidential campaign I can remember; even more so than Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani last time around.
I’ve supported Perry. I can’t support his chiming in on Bain Capital, which doesn’t disqualify Romney as the GOP nominee at all (there are ample other flaws in Romney which should perform that function), and I can’t support this level of performance.
What I can support at this point are attempts to hold Romney back from a majority of delegates so as to produce a brokered convention in Tampa, from which a candidate can be drawn who would satisfy at least a working consensus within the party and produce the victory over Barack Obama the country so badly needs. But the campaign Perry is currently running won’t cut it. It’s a loser of a campaign, and we’ve no time for losers this year.
Perry is at five percent in South Carolina. He should get out and endorse either Gingrich or Santorum after exacting promises to implement some of the ideas he ran on. To do so now would spare him the embarrassment he appears doomed to on Election Day in the Palmetto State.