Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been on the skids for a while. Aside from his respectable fundraising haul, he’s had a run of disappointments and embarrassments that threaten to push him to the middle or bottom of the pack of Republican primary candidates.
Since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bowed out of the race last week, a flood of big-name donors and endorsements from solid conservatives have flocked to Mitt Romney. That represents a thumbs down from a group of significant Republican players, the very ones who have willingly filled the coffers of the Republican Governors Association. This suggests that Perry’s fundraising prowess has not translated into the ability to instill confidence in and raise money for himself.
Perry received a mediocre reception, entirely overshadowed by Herman Cain, at the Values Voter Summit and finished tied in the straw poll with the political ailing Rep. Michele Bachmannn (R-Minn.) in single digits. At the Midwest Leadership Conference he drew a measly 4 percent in the straw poll.
His public polling numbers put him well below the top tier of candidates. The RealClearPolitics polling chart show the dramatic drop off in support — a vertical line, the figurative cliff he has fallen over in recent weeks. In New Hampshire the most recent poll puts him at 4 percent, half of Jon Huntsman’s total.
The New York Times reports the Perry campaign is promising to get its act together. Perry needs more sleep, you see. (Did he not know this is a physically demanding endeavor?). In addition we learn:
After weeks in which he has stirred doubts about his abilities as a candidate, Mr. Perry is re-examining his campaign — and himself — in an effort to correct his shortcomings of style and substance so he can capitalize on his strengths, including the $15 million he has in the bank and what he points to as a record of job creation in Texas.
“He seems uncomfortable on the stage,” said Sam Clovis, a conservative radio host in Sioux City who had a more favorable impression of Mr. Perry after shaking his hand during a weekend campaign stop here. “He’s going to have to get much, much better.”
The transition to being a presidential candidate has been harder than Mr. Perry expected, according to several aides and friends, who said he knew he needed to improve. His wife, Anita, who said last month that he would be “better prepared” in debates, accompanied him to Iowa. She jumped into the conversation at one point to make a point when he was pressed on immigration.
This reflects the observations of many GOP operatives, donors and elected officials with whom I have spoken in the last few weeks. Perry, they say, simply didn’t understand that his experience and success as governor was not easily translated into a successful presidential campaign. The sharp criticism and disastrous debates have knocked him off his game and stripped him of his telltale confidence.
As the Times observes:
He is gracious and courteous when shaking hands and signing autographs, yet when the small talk turned to Medicare’s prescription drug coverage or Social Security, a grimace occasionally replaced his smile.
He raced through campaign events, delivering speeches that clocked in around eight minutes. He quickly moved to question-and-answer sessions, but after calling on five people, he shouted, “Last question!” (Most candidates assign that task to an aide to avoid the impression that it is the candidate who is eager to go.)
Now he’s flailing about, running an ad that attacks Romney’s wealth. This is a loser on multiple counts in a primary of Republican voters who deplore class warfare. For starters, Romney is not Perry’s problem; Herman Cain and other social conservatives are. His ego may prevent him from acknowledging this, but unless he recaptures voters lost to Cain and other contenders he’ll remain in the middle of the pack of candidates and Romney will sail to victory. Moreover, is Perry, who used his connections to make lucrative land deals and has charged the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in the lap of luxury in a rented mansion, really the one to make an issue of Romney’s riches? This smacks of desperation on Perry’s part, which may, at this point, be the appropriate reaction to his predicament.
The brisk primary schedule is a challenge to many candidates, but it may hurt Perry most of all. He has limited time to regain his footing, try to burst the Cain bubble, roll out policy initiatives (something he neglected for months), turn in impressive debate appearances and reassure his base on everything from immigration to gay marriage. Can he do it? Not so long as he’s complaining about lack of sleep and throwing spit wads at the front runner. He needs to get serious on both policy and on debate prep. And fast.