The End Of The Road For Rick Perry?

Rick Perry's campaign isn't dead by any means, but he needs to turn things around soon.

Not surprisingly, last night’s mediocre at best debate performance, combined with his continued drop in the polls is leading some pundits to start asking if Rick Perry has fallen into a hole from which he won’t be able to escape. On some level, it seems like a silly suggestion. Voting doesn’t start in the GOP race for nearly three months, Perry raised $15 million in less than 50 days of campaigning, and there are still plenty of reasons why he might appeal to the conservative/Tea Party base of the Republican Party in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Nonetheless, the question is being asked, which means a meme is being developed that the Perry campaign is going to have stamp out pretty quickly before perception becomes reality.

Conn Carroll at The Examiner gets the ball rolling by suggesting that Perry should just give up on debating at this point:

Perry has performed poorly in all four of the GOP debates in which he has participated. Even the candidate himself seems to acknowledge that debates can only hurt his campaign. So why show up? The Perry campaign is telling every reporter who will listen that debates don’t matter. OK. If they really believe that, then why have Perry show up at all? Why not just work crowds, raise money, and run TV and web ads? We know Perry can’t debate, so let the headlines be about what he CAN do.

The problem with a strategy like this is that Perry’s non-presence at any future debate would be the 800lb gorilla in the room and the story would become why he’s avoiding his opponents. You could almost hear the line from Mitt Romney now “I would ask Governor Perry what he would do about the economy, but he’s not here.” Moreover, whether he chooses to debate his Republican opponents or not, if he wins the nomination he’s going to be able to avoid participating in debates with President Obama. He could try to avoid them, I suppose, but again the story would become about what Perry is afraid of, and all of that would enure to the benefit of Obama and the Democrats. So, no, avoiding future debates isn’t the answer.

Carroll’s colleague Byron York goes further:

If Tuesday night’s debate had really been a make-or-break test, then Rick Perry’s candidacy would be broken.  Of course, Perry is still in the race, and he has time — though not a lot — to recover.  He also has a lot of money, about $15 million, to buy television advertising that could both bolster his image and tear down Romney’s.  Carney says the campaign will air TV ads soon — he won’t say precisely when — but vows most will be positive ads introducing Perry to voters.

Compounding the bad news for Perry was the fact that Romney had another strong night.  Talk to Republicans who don’t like Romney, who would like to see a serious conservative emerge to challenge Romney, and they still concede that the former Massachusetts governor seems in full command of himself, his program, and his performance.  Romney has participated in six Republican debates this year, and despite his obvious weaknesses — the greatest being his Massachusetts universal health care plan — he has not suffered any serious setbacks. And on Tuesday night, in particular, he was riding high, having announced earlier in the day that he had received the endorsement of popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.


David Carney, the top Perry aide, believes it still is.  “Ultimately, the battle for the nomination will be, I think, between Mitt Romney and someone else,” David Carney said after the debate.  “Our goal is to make us that someone else.”

The question after Tuesday night is whether Perry did anything at the debate to make progress toward that goal.  The answer — best expressed by Perry’s own “not my strong suit” comment — appears to be no.

That $17 million raised, $15 million of which is still in the bank, will help Perry immensely, and can be used for near-saturation media buys in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, but Jennifer Rubin is correct to note that money alone isn’t going to be enough to save Rick Perry:

The fallacy of politics, as the punditocracy too often portrays it, is that money is the end-all and be-all of campaigns. Like early polls, pundits fondle the FEC reports, as if they were political Ouija boards. In truth, all you need is “enough” money to win an election. A billion dollars isn’t going to help Obama overcome 9 percent unemployment. Seventeen million can’t obscure the fact that Perry is not ready or able to put together a first-rate presidential campaign. What matters is the quality of the candidate and the ideas he offers.

While I agree that debates are often given far more importance than they probably should, especially this early in the race, they do serve several useful purposes. First of all, they provide the candidates with the opportunity to introduce themselves to the voters. While Perry seemed to have done this well enough in his first debate, he drifted off course as September went along and has often seemed strangely unable to communicate his thoughts during the course of these debates. If nothing else, this is the kind of thing that causes potential voters to question their support for a candidate, at worst it’s enough for some to write the candidate off completely. The second purpose the debates serve is to allow voters to judge the candidate’s command of the issues, at least a partial indication of what kind of President they’d be. Perry hasn’t done well here at all, most notably last night when he had little more than slogans to offer as part of the economic plan he will supposedly be unveiling on Friday. Finally, the debates give the candidates the opportunity to distinguish themselves from their opponents. Perry has distinguished himself alright, mostly by his own inadequacies. All of this, arguably, is what has led many voters to conclude that Perry isn’t the quality candidate that they thought he was when he entered the race. Unless Perry can reverse those perceptions quickly, all that money in the bank isn’t going to mean very much.

I wouldn’t write Rick Perry off just yet, but time is ticking away and it’s going to take a major turn around for him to get back into this thing.

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. sam says:
  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Josh Marshall points out that Perry has been campaigning like he was in Texas and the rest of the country is no Texas.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    The WH is out bashing Romney as if he is already the nominee. By the time they are done we may get to Iowa with absolutely no credible candidates…save Huntsman…who, let’s face it, is far too sane for any Republican to vote for.

  4. My one-line summaries of the debate, in alphabetical order:

    Bachmann: Hey, is that spelled with one “n” or two, and one “l” or two in her first name? Nuff said. Oh, she was a federal tax attorney.

    Cain: Bold! Simple! Transparent! What part of Nine Nine Nine don’t you understand? (Other than the “Nine” part?)

    Gingrich: “Don’t know much about ee-con-o-mee, but I’ll roll you flat in foreign pol-uh-see.”

    Huntsman: Let’s have Chinese mayors meets with American mayors! And stuff like that. Fork. Stick. Done.

    Paul: I hate the Fed. Really, I do. And that’s my economic platform.

    Perry: The best duh-bater at the table.

    Romney: Hit me with your best shot. Ha! Missed! Again!

    Santorum: Well, bucko, you sure didn’t ask the audience what they thought about your proposals, now didja? Chicken!

  5. jan says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    that Perry has been campaigning like he was in Texas and the rest of the country is no Texas.

    Actually, Ron, that’s what a lot of other people are saying too. I think Perry’s lack of catching-on, nationally, is surprising no one more than Perry, himself.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    Jan in September:
    “…Unless either Perry or Romney has some irreversible issue hit their campaigns, these two will be the ones left standing to battle each other through the primaries. Once one of them is the nominee it will be the “GOP candidate” versus Obama…”

    Jan today:
    “… I think Perry’s lack of catching-on, nationally, is surprising no one more than Perry, himself…”

    Is she more flippity floppity than even Romney??? You betcha!!!!

  7. Moosebreath says:

    While I did not write it, this sets forth pretty close to my thinking that Perry is far from toast.

  8. MBunge says:

    Perry’s only problem is that Texas Republicans, while as whacked out as the national GOP is on many issues, are not xenophobically deranged on the subject of immigration. That’s because they actually need Latino votes to get elected and Texas Republicans are used to using their relative sanity on immigration as a weapon to defuse attacks on their other positions. They hold up immigration as the issue that proves they’re not crazy haters, which is why Perry used the “heartless” reference during that debate. That comment is the well from which all other Perry problems flow because it made the GOP base look at Perry as “the other”. Once you’re no longer part of the tribe, nothing else matters.


  9. jan says:

    @Hey Norm:

    I guess you just like picking arguments, Norm. Wasn’t there a condition put in that initial appraisal of Perry and Romney, dealing with ‘irreversible issues’?

    No one had seen Perry in a debate before, nor really heard him personally speaking to our pressing issues, when this comment was rendered. However, as a person who has watched all the debates, at least partially, my appraisal of Perry has evolved to what I said today. Isn’t that how decisions are made — by acquiring more knowledge which may alter or expand one’s opinion on something or someone?

    My stances don’t stand on ideological laurels, or are stuck in cement, like your’s apparently are.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    What irreversible issue?

  11. Blue Shark says:

    … Why wouldn’t America rally round another ill-informed, intellectually lazy, part time Texas Governor who does frat boy persona better than anyone?

    …Oh wait!

  12. Hey Norm says:

    So you are saying you didn’t flip-flop…. you simply declared Perry the co-winner of the nomination based on…well apparently nothing…because you hadn’t “…seen Perry in a debate before, nor really heard him personally speaking to our pressing issues, when this comment was rendered…”
    In fact you declared him the co-winner based on nothing…right? That’s what you are saying.
    What happened is that one of the uber-right wing blogs you read gushed over Perry so you gushed over Perry. The problem is that none of these thoughts are ever your own. The extremist bloggers told you what to think, and so thats what you thought, and now the winds have changed, and so you have too.

  13. mattb says:

    @Hey Norm:
    No offense, but I have to take Jan’s side on this one. I think that Perry’s current debate performance + immigration + other issues = the “irreversible” (he’s yet to correct the continued stumbling).

    Plus if you read her comment from today:

    @jan: I think Perry’s lack of catching-on, nationally, is surprising no one more than Perry, himself.

    I’m pretty sure she’s counting herself among the surprised. If she had written that as “surprising no one other than Perry” you might have had something. However, that wasn’t what she wrote and she doesn’t deserve that particular accusation of flip-flopping.

  14. mattb says:

    It seems to me Perry’s biggest hope is to embrace his inner Palin and run the Non-Traditional Campaign that Sarah was supposed to run. Now that he’s on tape saying he isn’t good at debates, I think his only strategy is to skip them all and “go direct” to the people — in other words restrict himself to 1:1 interviews, Right Wing outlets, and social media.

    I’m not sure that’s enough to lose the “glass jaw” perception, but anything has to be better than this. Especially as Cain appears to be currently beating him on the Charismatic front.

  15. David M says:

    The End Of The Road For Rick Perry?

    No. for one simple reason. No one likes Mitt Romney, even against the current collection of clowns that constitute the GOP field he can’t get any traction.

  16. Hey Norm says:

    Fair enough MattB….I take it back.
    Until the wingnut blogs fall back in love with Perry and Jan again follows the leader.

  17. Connie says:


    Actually, that might be a good plan.

  18. Hey Norm says:

    MattB and Connie….
    Do you think it’s a good idea to elect a President who can’t debate Michelle Bachmann? I mean…what happens when he has to talk to Putin? Is he going to do it through Facebook or Twitter or some other social media???
    What a pathetic line-up.

  19. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Hey Norm: In defense of Jan (something I never thought I would do) the irreversable issue for Perry may be that he is an even worse debater than Dubya was. Dubya’s famous comment after the 2000 election regarding the debates was something on the order of “after I got ‘Hi, I’m Geroge W. Bush’ out, I had already exceeded people’s expectations and the rest was downhill.” Perry can’t even see peoples’ expectations on the horizon, let alone meet them. Maybe he’ll get better, but…

  20. casimir says:

    @jan: yeah, i got the sense that perry felt he could just show up, make a few speaches and clinch the nomination.

  21. sam says:

    He could always threaten to lead Texas out of the Union by secession and thus deprive the Republicans of all its electoral votes if he’s not nominated…

  22. mattb says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Do you think it’s a good idea to elect a President who can’t debate Michelle Bachmann?

    God no. At this point, I cannot imagine myself voting for any of these candidates.

    Generally speaking, Romney would be my preferred nominee — not because I think he’s the easiest to beat, but he’s the one who I think would make the best president.