The rise and fall of Rick Perry: Why Texas' three term governor couldn't lastthree weeks on the national stage
Rick Perry didn’t think it would end like this.
Going into the first Southern primary in the race, Perry, who had commanded over one third of the South Carolinian vote back in August, was now polling about three percent. The man who had never lost an election is his life (and he’s been in nine of them) was having a hard time realizing just how dead in the water his campaign had become.
After coming in a disappointing fifth in Iowa — a state where his brand of cocksure social conservatism should have placed him at the top of the pack, no matter what jacket he chose to wear — Perry announced that he would “return to Texas” and reassess his campaign. Somehow, that assessment led him to return to the ring for another bloody round. It was if he couldn’t really believe that he had lost.
This is the part of the movie where the old, haggard trainer has to take the former prize horse out behind the barn and put her out of her misery. Perry is once again returning to Texas, this time for good, but it’s hard to believe he’ll have an eighth of the authority he used to wield here in Austin.
It’s as if the perpetual playground bully (and those are their words, not mine) went to the playground across the street, got a grade-A whooping on national television, and came back battered and bruised with an eye on regaining his former spot on top.
For a period of about three weeks, Perry’s broad shoulders and raised chin kept his daft mouth out of trouble, but it wasn’t long until Perry was flubbing 8th grade level sentences, calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme and making Americans wonder if he was giving speeches while drunk.
If Perry had just had a bad showing, it would have been no big deal. Maybe the country wasn’t ready for another pistol packin', "g"-eliding governor from Texas. But obviously, the exact opposite was true.
When Perry first announced his candidacy, back in August, he shot to the top of the pack. America had yet to see Perry do more than pray, but his poll numbers were already double those of Mitt Romney. America wanted a leader, and Perry seemed to fit the bill.
For a period of about three weeks, Perry’s broad shoulders and raised chin kept his daft mouth out of trouble, but it wasn’t long until Perry was flubbing 8th grade level sentences, calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme and making Americans wonder if he was giving speeches while drunk. All Perry had to do was live up to the graciously conceived characterizations of himself, and he would be facing Obama come September. Instead, the indefatigable Texan juggernaut became the Sarah Palin of 2012.
Texas: It’s Like a Whole ‘Nother Country
In the other forty-nine states of the union this morning, I’m fairly confident that no one is shocked by just how hard Perry’s campaign crashed and burned. After all, this is a man who shot a coyote with a laser-sighted pistol while jogging and has an old-school-racist ranch, not a former venture capitalist or the Speaker of the House.
But here in Texas, Perry was inevitable. He was just a fact of life. He was like the drought: you knew it was coming, you could try and fight it, but in the end you knew it was going to win.
Think back to the last gubernatorial election. Perry tidily takes care of Kay Bailey, has no problem defeating Bill White and saunters into his fourth term as governor. If you go all the way back to 1984 the story remains the same. Why has Texas spoon fed Perry victory for the past three decades while the rest of the country spit him out after three weeks?
First off, in Texas, Perry has his network. Where George W. had Yale's Skull and Bones, Perry had A&M's Corps. Sure Karl Rove might be out to get him (their dispute even has its own Wikipedia page), but that only shows how strong Perry’s Texas roots are that he can get by fine without having to pay tribute to the powerful Rove/Bush network.
Do you remember that major debate gaffe he had again Bill White? Neither do we, because he never debated White. In fact, during his nearly thirty years in Texas politics, Perry only debated a grand total of four times.
Perry works well within a community. He is a flesh-presser, not a grand ideologue like Obama. He does his best work when he can look you in the eye, grab your wrist, and put his finger in your face to let you know how things are going to be. Once again, it’s a classic bully tactic, and one that doesn’t work once the parents come back to the playground.
Second, let’s not forget that, at heart, Perry is a cotton farmer from Paint Creek. He has no experience running a major corporation, he’s probably never sat down to read the Federalist Papers and he has no clue how to best deal with a nuclear Pakistan. You almost had the feeling that, when pressed about foreign policy questions on which he had no knowledge or context, Perry just said whatever came to his head.
Asked about the new ruling party in Turkey (albeit in a very leading manner by a priggish Brett Baier), Perry jumped to broad (and dangerous) generalities, calling Turkey’s leaders “Islamic terrorists.” Did Perry really have a beef with Turkey, or was he just trying to think of something to say that sounded tough? Is this what anyone wants in a President?
But the biggest factor to his Texan success is that, over the past eleven years of his governorship, he has kept his mouth shut as much as possible. Do you remember that major debate gaffe he had again Bill White? Neither do we, because he never debated White. In fact, during his nearly thirty years in Texas politics, Perry only debated a grand total of four times.
It’s astonishing when you think about it, but this campaign has shown just how crucial that strategy has been to keeping him afloat all these years.
Riding Off Into the Sunset
The vultures are circling for Perry. The heavy handedness he displayed during the last Texas’ last legislative session will likely be a thing of the past, and rightfully so. You just can’t fail that spectacularly and then expect to retain your former power.
Luckily for Perry, the legislature won’t be in session again until 2013, a fact that Perry is giddy about but the rest of the country finds oddly irresponsible. But such was the entire 2012 race, and quite honestly, it’s hard to watch a fall from grace as significant as Perry’s was.
From Texas' longet serving governor to Republican savior to court jester, the man saw his legacy go from the future leader of the free world to the learning-impared bumpkin from Texas in a matter of weeks.
At least the free fall has stopped, with Perry lying comfortably on the bottom.