The rapid fall of Rick Perry

December 11, 2011

No candidate had a bigger initial impact on the Republican presidential race than Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Only Herman Cain has fallen further faster.

Perry is Exhibit A for several things about the 2012 contest and presidential politics in general. One is the influence that debates have had in shaping public perceptions of the candidates. Another is the perils that come with entering a White House campaign after minimal planning and preparation.

Perry’s lack of readiness and the heavy GOP debate schedule have cost him dearly. From front-runner in August he tumbled to second tier by October. He is now hoping for a comeback in Iowa and is investing heavily in time and money to try to make it happen.

His strategy is predicated on two things. The first is contrasting himself with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney by portraying himself as the only Washington outsider of the three. The second is establishing himself as the “faith and values” candidate in the hope of coalescing Iowa’s evangelical vote.

Perry will spend large amounts on advertising in the final weeks before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. His goal is to have a surprisingly strong finish, one that keeps him in the conversation along with Gingrich and Romney as the campaign moves to New Hampshire and South Carolina. If he is viable after Iowa, he is likely to skip New Hampshire and focus on the Palmetto State.

Perry has been a force in Texas politics for many years. He is the longest-serving governor in the state’s history — almost 11 years and counting. He started his life in politics as a Democrat and, like many conservatives in the Lone Star State, made the switch to an ascendant Republican Party. He has never lost an election in Texas.

His original strategy was to become the conservative alternative to Romney. He planned to use the Texas economy to establish himself as the best job creator in the GOP field.

That seemed plausible when Perry announced his bid. The interest in his candidacy helped boost him to the top of the polls. But poor debate performances, including that painful “Oops” moment when he couldn’t remember one of the three federal agencies he would like to zero out, badly damaged his candidacy.

To his credit, he immediately tried to minimize the fallout, appearing on morning shows and in a cameo on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

By then, many GOP voters seemed to have decided that he didn’t have the makings of a presidential nominee.

He will need all that money, some guile and a little luck if he is to pull off that surprise finish in Iowa.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent.
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