Rick Perry The Worst Candidate Of The 2012 Cycle?

Was Rick Perry the worst candidate to run in the 2012 cycle? It certainly appears so.

Chris Cillizza names what he contends was the worst candidate of the entire 2012 election cycle:

Remember back to the late summer of 2011.  Perry entered the race with what looked like a straight path to frontrunner status. He was a conservative’s conservative with a proven record of doing what he said in Texas. He was a fundraising powerhouse. He had a charisma that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lacked. It was all there for the taking.

Until, it became clear that the idea of Rick Perry running for president was very different than the reality of Rick Perry running for president. While Perry began strong with a much-touted appearance in Waterloo,  Iowa, that single event wound up being the best moment of a campaign whose trajectory was almost entirely downward.

There was the decidedly odd speech that Perry gave in New Hampshire. There was a series of debate performances in which Perry seemed (at best) thinly-versed on the issues of the day. And then there was Perry’s brain freeze in a November debate in which he simply could not remember the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate — a lock-up that he punctuated with his now-famous “Oops”. (Even these many months later, the Fix stomach churns watching the Perry clip; it has to be among the most awkward moments in the history of politics.)

While it was probably over for Perry before “oops”, it was definitely over for him afterwards. He finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses, sixth (with ONE percent) in the New Hampshire primaries and then dropped out of the race before the South Carolina primary. (In a final coup de grace of bad political judgment, Perry endorsed the presidential candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)

The gap between what was expected of Perry and what he delivered coupled with incredibly high profile of the race in which he chose to flop makes Perry a clear choice for worst candidate of 2012.

It’s hard to argue with Cillizza’s assessment here. After all, when Perry entered the race in August 2011, at a Red State political gathering being held on the same day as the Ames Straw Poll no less, he was seen by many on the right as the candidate most capable of taking on the powerhouse Romney campaign. He had strong roots in the conservative wing of the GOP,  a good relationship from the Tea Party, a ten year record as Texas Governor in which he was essentially able to roll over his opponents at each election, and the kind of connections that seemingly would make it easy for him to match Romney’s seemingly unbeatable fundraising schedule. Conservatives turned to Perry, who had initially demurred at the idea of running in 2012, because even by August 2011 it was blindingly obvious that none of the conservative alternatives to Romney already in the race would be capable of taking him on, and because they refused to even give a first look to potentially competitive candidates like Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson. So, for the right, Rick Perry really was the last, best hope to stop the Romney juggernaut before it gained so much ground in fundraising and organization that it would be impossible to beat.

At first, it seemed like the plan might actually succeed. From the moment that he entered the race up until the debates resumed in September, Perry steadily gained in the polls to the point where, by September 6th, he was the clear national frontrunner. Then, the debates happened. If Perry’s performances in these debates weren’t bad enough, there’s also the fact that he ended up hurting himself significantly when he not only defended his support for a Texas program that allowed certain students in the country illegally to be eligible for in-state tuition, but called those who disagreed with him “heartless.” It was at that point, I think, that his candidacy become doomed and, indeed, by the end of October he had surrendered the lead to a former pizza executive while his own poll numbers fell like a stone. The great conservative hope was crushed, and it was only a matter of time before he dropped out of the race.

So, yea, I think I’d agree with Cillizza that Perry was the worst candidate of the 2012 cycle. There are certainly other candidates, though. Michele Bachmann belongs on the list if only for her bizarre rants against Gardisil during the debates in September `11. I’d throw Herman Cain in there as well, although at least once can say that he provided some entertainment during the time he was in the race. Looking outside the Presidential field, it’s hard not to put Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock on the list, and as Cillizza notes Michigan Republican Pete Hoekstra ran one of the most incompetent Senate campaigns of anyone in the country. Any other candidates?

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Geek, Esq. says:

    Well, on the House side, you had Allen West and Joe Walsh.

    But, it’s hard to top Rick Perry, who had the worst political ad (“Strong”) and the worst debate moment (“oops”).

    And think–Romney wallowed in rightwing immigrant bashing just to beat Perry in the primaries.


  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Also, Linda McMahon spending $100 million to lose both of her state’s Senate seats surely merits considertion.

  3. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Agreed on Perry. But Cain was not in any way the worst candidate. He was a nobody that created a brand that he’s still exploiting. It was a sublime piece of performance art where Cain went from unknown to national joke that cashes in big time and gets invited to all sorts of places that actually take him seriously.

    What else could he ask for?

  4. PogueMahone says:

    I remember all of my liberal friends here in Texas were actually worried about Perry’s bid. They were concerned that he would be the best candidate against Obama.

    I reassured them that there is no way Perry could beat Obama. First, people remember quite vividly the last Republican governor to come out of Texas. Second, I knew that Perry was a bumbling fool and he would eventually trip up and easily be defeated. And finally, even the GOP primary voters would be concerned about the similarities between W and Perry.
    Nevertheless, they were quite convinced that he would be the GOP’s best shot.

    Oh what a campaign makes. Hell, I covered the spread before Christmas.


  5. C. Clavin says:

    Perry was up against a competitive field of nutcases.
    Romney on the other hand…I fail to see how anyone can be judged worse than Romney…he lost a can’t lose race.

  6. legion says:

    I think Cain or Santorum had the potential to be worse if they’d actually gotten any real attention paid to them, but not even their own party ever took them seriously. Newt Gingrich would have been interesting, in a train-wreck kind of way.

    Was Donald Trump ever serious enough to be considered for this category? Because wow – would that have ever been a Hindenburg-crashing-into-the-Titanic-at-Hiroshima kind of campaign or what?

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @ Geek…
    If she had sent $25 to every man, woman, and child in CT…she would have saved herself some money.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    We may need a prize for worst overall field of candidates. Can anyone recall a worse line-up than this year’s GOP?

  9. Rob in CT says:

    How does one measure such things?

    The GOP primary was a clownshow. With such a cast of characters to choose from, why even bother picking a winner? Give ’em all a ribbon for participating… 😉

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @legion: I Lawrence O’Donnell had Trump pegged from the get go. Said that if he filed he’d have to make financial disclosures that he would never make. If he did, they’d show how badly Trump was lying about his wealth. Trump continued to preen and posture for awhile, but never took any serious step toward running.

  11. Barfour says:

    One word: Oops! That also seemed to be George W. Bush’s reaction after he invaded Iraq and found out that there was no WMD. Maybe it’s a Texas thing.

  12. The problem with the “Oops” line is it made it clear that he didn’t have any actual small government principles, he was just parroting a line he’d been told to say.

  13. mantis says:

    And the funny thing is if Perry hadn’t insulted the anti-immigrant base of Republicans, he would have had a solid chance to still win the nomination, stupidity and all. It was a seemingly liberal position that killed the campaign of the last hope of conservatives (until the next hope: Herman Cain). The ironing is delicious.

  14. mantis says:

    He was already dead in the water by the time “Oops” happened.

  15. Facebones says:


    Lawrence O’Donnell had Trump pegged from the get go. Said that if he filed he’d have to make financial disclosures that he would never make. If he did, they’d show how badly Trump was lying about his wealth. Trump continued to preen and posture for awhile, but never took any serious step toward running.

    I’ve been saying this for years, every time someone tries to make noise about President Trump. His whole schtick is based on him being the Richest Man In The World, and he is not anywhere as rich as he wants you to think he is.

    Put it this way: Warren Buffet is not doing Learning Annex seminars or selling branded vodka.

  16. rudderpedals says:

    Shout out to Connie Mack IV’s ass-whupping loss to Bill Nelson. 4 coasted on name recognition to win the primary but continued to campaign in Rose Garden style, forgetting that the other guy was the incumbent.

  17. Ken says:

    @michael reynolds: Can anyone recall a worse line-up than this year’s GOP?

    The Toronto Blue Jays, May 15, 1981 vs Len Barker

    Beyond that, no – nothing in my lifetime

  18. al-Ameda says:

    Perry? Bachmann? West? Cain? Jeez, compared to THAT police line-up crew, even Gingrich and Santorum SEEM somewhat normal. Romney was the only choice the GOP had to avoid a comets implosion.

  19. anjin-san says:

    I think Romney certainly deserves an honorable mention for running a crap campaign in general and certainly for going into election day apparently have bought completely into the Fox/Rove spin that he was headed for a big victory. HTF could he possibly be that clueless?

  20. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Perry had the worst result of any major candidate, but he wasn’t the worst candidate. Multi-term governors from huge states by definition can’t be the worst candidate for a higher office. Plus had it not been for the back surgery and the medication things might have been very different for him.

    Todd Akin was the worst candidate, A mannequin this year would have beaten McCaskill. Akin managed to turn a guaranteed pickup for the GOP into a double digit loss. That takes special “talent.”

    Paul Ryan has to be included in this list. And that’s not merely in hindsight. On the day he was announced it was obvious to many people that Romney truly had screwed up. Keep in mind Romney had available to him statewide office holders from Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Yet he chose a mere representative from a state that hadn’t voted for a GOP Prez nominee since 1984. Not only that but Ryan’s entire reputation was built upon entitlement reform, which is a hard sell in the context of a national general election when you look like you should still be in grad school.

    Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich and Santorum, along with Walsh and West, get honorable mentions, or dishonorable mentions, depending upon your perspective.

    The worst Dem candidate, ironically enough, was Obama, but when you win in spite of yourself all is forgiven and forgotten. Bob Kerrey also pretty much embarrassed himself.

  21. Facebones says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: I’d argue that Perry was the worst candidate based on the gulf between what was expected and what was delivered. Liberals were genuinely worried about a charismatic governor that the conservatives could rally behind, and if he could have spoken in complete sentences he might have won the nomination.

    To paraphrase Dennis Green, Akin is who we thought he was. McCaskill could see he was a tool and happily bought ads for him.

  22. Facebones says:

    @mantis: Isn’t that amazing? His undoing with the base was his one concession to reality, that no, we aren’t going to deport millions of immigrants. Know your audience, dude!

  23. pylon says:

    I gotta admit that, as a liberal, at the very beginning, Perry worried me most. He was a governor (read, outsider), relatively telegenic and harmless looking and was popular in Texas.

    It’s kinda funny that one of his big downfalls (his Hispanic friendliness) would have been a plus in the general. Possibly a big one.

  24. legion says:

    Perry was as big a disappointment as he was, and Romney did as well as he did, because of the Republican Party obsession with packaging over product. Romney got through the primaries because he was unflinchingly willing to flat-out lie to every audience he was put in from of. No thinking, no moral quandaries, just say whatever the hell they want to hear & get out. Perry was such an incurable idiot that he couldn’t even grasp that tactic. If you don’t believe me, just look at all the post-election discussion within the party – it’s all about “how do we convince people to vote for us”, not “how do we provide voters something they’re willing to vote for”. This is the worldview you get when you put businessmen into politics: everything can be solved by the proper dose of PR – you don’t have to provide a product people actually want if your ad campaign is hot enough. Who cares what happens after the warranty expires? What warranty?

  25. Bill says:

    @rudderpedals: The Mack campaign was just about non-existent where I live aka Palm Beach County. We saw tons of ads for Murphy and West but about nil for Mack. He ran on his father’s name but the IV was clearly not the 3rd. No legislative achievements, absentee officeholder(He ranks 430 something in attendance.) BTW I voted for Nelson like I did in 2000 and 2006. The GOP in Florida has picked some gems for the Senate in my time living here. Paula Hawkins, Katherine Harris, Howdy DoodyBill McCollum, Mack IV, and others

  26. Alanmt says:

    Ah yes, I remember Perry. Railing against the gays in an ad while wearing a brokeback coat. I would count him the worst for the simple reason that his candidacy seemed to expose an iq of such insufficiency for higher office that his governmental position in Texas was unexplicable, but for lower profile elections and talented policy aides.

  27. wr says:

    @Bill: It was one of the great pleasures of this election that both Mr. and Mrs. Mary Bono Mack lost their seats.

  28. Kylopod says:

    I think the criteria Cilizza is using has to do with expectations. No one expected Bachmann or Cain to become serious challengers to Romney, or, for that matter, that either of them would end up as more than jokes in the unlikely event that they won the nomination. Perry, on the other hand, was considered a real threat to Romney’s ascendancy. It was partly because he was perceived as having a leg in both the establishment and the Tea Party. He also, unlike Cain or Bachmann, had a decent amount of political experience. He was the only Tea Party favorite in the race to have a conventional resume.

    It’s far from obvious he’d have beaten Romney even if he’d managed to avoid his epic collapse in the debates, but that certainly contributed to the feeling among pundits that he threw away a golden opportunity, something Bachmann and Cain never had to begin with.

  29. matt says:

    Hell Perry lost a lot of popularity in Texas because of his campaign..

  30. ozarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The worst Dem candidate, ironically enough, was Obama, but when you win in spite of yourself all is forgiven and forgotten.

    Yeah. He certainly was. Really. No really, he was. Because Tsar doesn’t like him. With astute analysis like that, Doug better start looking for another job.

  31. Curtis says:

    If we are discussing the presidential candidates, then this is a no-brainer.

    Frankly, I don’t consider Bachmann, Gingrich, and Cain to be actual presidential candidates so much as vanity candidates looking for higher speaker fees in the conservative entertainment complex.

    I do think Perry exposed Romney’s biggest weakness: his penchant for responding with maximal aggressiveness towards momentary gains. I think the Latino drubbing was already basically baked into the Republican cake – the attacks on Sotomayor as an affirmative action nominee were disgraceful, for example – but the “let’s make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they give up and leave” policy certainly didn’t help.

  32. Dave Anderson says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Let’s see, Obama basically performed to expectations according to the economic based models, and ran a reasonably smooth campaign plus he won.

    Kerrey knew that he was running in an intensely hostile environment that has been sliding further to the right and lost, but did not embarass himself while outperforming Obama.

    If you are looking for a Democrat who lost a very winnable race, look at Nevada-Senate in Berkley who significantly underperformed every other Democrat in the state.