“She’s going, ‘What are all those people doing out there?!’ ” Perry said on a day that became ever more aimless as the hours lapsed on.
It had all begun so differently back in August, when the square-shouldered Texan, sharp in a suit and bright orange tie, bounded out of his big bus into the Charleston sunshine and announced that he was running for president.
“Howdy,” he said to the cheering crowd, telling the story of an ambitious son of cotton farmers who became governor of the 13th-largest economy in the world. He grinned with all the confidence of a man who had never lost an election and was soaring to the top of the Republican field.
Then came a clumsy debate performance in September and revelations about a family hunting camp with a racially charged name in October. Then in November, Perry froze — the “oops” debate when he forgot the name of the third federal agency he would abolish. And on Jan. 3, Perry finished next to last in Iowa. In a halting speech afterward, he shared a letter from a supporter.
“Basically I want you to know that you matter,” Perry read as his wife nodded and patted his back.
He was going home to Texas to reassess, he said, and with that, a presidential campaign that pundits had started calling one of the most mismanaged in recent history seemed to be over.
Except that the very next day, Perry tweeted a photograph of himself in a black spandex running outfit. He was back, he said. He was pressing on to South Carolina.
And so, here he was on an overcast Thursday morning, beginning a day of appearances by walking into Lizard’s Thicket restaurant and a kind of political and personal netherworld — his poll numbers in the single digits, his confidence challenged, his campaign lingering in some strange place between the last throes of death and the dim possibility of revival.
A warm and smiling breakfast crowd of 27 people greeted him, a number that included five children and two of Perry’s financial backers who said they had flown in from Houston to offer moral support. Local campaign workers had taped up a few Perry for President posters, and outside, a row of Perry signs in a grassy median were twinned with ones for a town council candidate.
On day 153, Perry wore pleated gray pants, a blue fleece sweater and thick-soled orthopedic shoes. His hair, famously brown-looking on TV, was in reality feathered with gray. His stature, famously rugged-looking on TV, seemed in person a bit less so.