Losing, But with Time on the Clock

Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, addressing supporters after his fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2012.
Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, addressing supporters after his fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2012.

If the voters haven't ruled you out, and the money people haven't starved you, why quit?

Gov. Rick Perry didn't perform to his stated expectations in Iowa, but so what? He's gonna lose big in New Hampshire, but so what? If those two wins aren't required to win the nomination for president — and they're not — why not give South Carolina a whirl? He's apparently got enough money. It plays to his strengths — social conservative, fiscal conservative, evangelical, Southern, Republican, Tea-stained, etc. — and it may be that voters by then will have soured on the other alternatives to frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Other than the fact of that Tuesday night "reassessment" speech, there's nothing in the Iowa results that calls for a finale. The Iowa caucuses are interesting, but they don't have anything to do with who wins the nomination. If you get out of the cornfields with a political pulse, you keep going. Perry's campaign has looked more like a bottle rocket than an Atlas rocket, but there's still a little gunpowder there. They've apparently decided to see if it can still fly.

Forget about the caucus night speech and the talk of coming back to Texas to reassess and all of that. Perry still has money and this is, at this stage, more like a poker game. If you have money, there's a new hand being dealt, and if you want to sit out for a hand and play again in South Carolina, that's allowed under the rules. Why not? It's someone else's money.

The other players are flawed, too. Romney is still the frontrunner, and has done this before. Two candidates — Herman Cain and Michele Bachman — are gone. Newt Gingrich peaked before the Iowa Caucus and could bubble up again in his native South. Rick Santorum was the story in Iowa, but hasn't worked the coming states like he did that one.

Perry has stumbled, and badly, but so has everyone else. The first one to find his footing could become the last remaining alternative to Romney. At the start of this last summer, that's all anyone wanted to be. They just didn't know that prize would go, at the end, to the tallest piece of rubble.