Perry dropped out of the race for president last week, ending a campaign that has been in hospice for weeks, with dwindling financial resources and little visible support from the public. The hot number from four years ago came back for another dance, only to find his admirers have moved on.
Perry’s was an asterisk candidacy — one marked by that less-than-zero showing in many polls. And here’s the telling consequence: His exit didn’t alter the fortunes of any of the remaining campaigns. With the exception of the Texas media — the hometown crowd — his decision to forfeit played second-fiddle to Serena Williams’ loss in the U.S. Open.
Her defeat was actually news. Perry’s was not.
In his first real post-announcement appearance — on Fox News’ Hannity — the former Texas governor spun a tale of a campaign largely undone by a political prosecution by a spurned Travis County district attorney.
Perry was indicted by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican from San Antonio on charges related to his veto of state funding for Travis County’s public integrity unit — the part of the district attorney’s office that handles, among other things, ethical and other misdeeds of state officeholders. The then-governor had demanded the resignation of Rosemary Lehmberg, who was arrested for drunken driving and then spent a few days in jail after pleading guilty. But she didn’t resign then and didn’t quit when Perry demanded it. He vetoed the funding. The special prosecutor took that to a grand jury, which indicted Perry on charges that he misused his official powers.
The only overtly political thing about the indictments is the defendant himself, who has spent the last 30 years in one political office or another. It’s natural for him to attack his attackers, and putting it off as politics is the textbook response for someone in Perry’s position.
The charges were made more than a year ago. Perry’s lawyers have burned through $2 million and knocked down one of his two indictments. One remains, however, and now the former governor and former presidential candidate is hanging his campaign’s failure on “a real corrosive effect on our ability to raise money.”
It couldn’t have helped. But Perry and his legal team have known since the indictments came down — before then, really — that they would be an impediment. And he didn’t declare his candidacy for the Republican nomination until well after the indictments were handed up. Either he thought that the lawyers would be able to erase the indictments before now or that the indictments wouldn’t hurt him, but it’s a little disingenuous to say now that his legal troubles kept his political plane from taking off.
The truth is, Perry wasn’t drawing any attention. Four years ago, Republican voters initially saw the Texas governor as the steward of a strong state economy, a political player admired by movement conservatives, Tea Partiers, evangelicals, Republican financiers and a good chunk of the party establishment.
He looked at the time like the solution to voter dissatisfaction with others in the 2012 Republican field.
But when the time for him was ripe, he was unprepared. He ran a mediocre race capped by his famous “oops” moment in a debate, and marked himself — fairly or not — as a minor leaguer. He studied this time, laying the foundation to better answer debate questions and handle conversations about issues and policy, but Perry left something critical out of his preparations.
He didn’t know what voters were looking for this time. With 16 other choices, political donors and voters never had a reason to reconsider candidates who got their serious attention last time. Maybe they will come around, but Perry couldn’t keep things going long enough to find out.
Getting to the debate stage, he acknowledged this week, would have helped. A little attention from voters catches the attention of the money people and the circle of political life runs on that interplay.
The criminal charges against him certainly didn’t help, but that’s not why the governor is headed home. He would probably be out even if those charges had been dropped months ago. When the voters were ready for him four years ago, he was unprepared. Now it’s the other way around: He’s prepared, and voters and donors are no longer interested.
And that’s his own fault.