He entered as the longest-serving governor in Texas history, a politician who had never lost a race, a governor whose state in recent years had created more jobs than all the other states combined. He seemed to have perfect pitch with the tea party movement that had reshaped his party and he had a financial network that could raise big money quickly.
Certainly, Romney’s campaign believed all that and quickly prepared to take Perry down. It was hardly necessary. For Perry, almost nothing went to form, beginning with a series of underwhelming debate performances that came to define him in ways he could never overcome.
He left the race after finishing in single digits in both Iowa and New Hampshire and facing the prospect of mirror finish here on Saturday. He became a textbook example of why candidates need months and sometimes years of preparation. Even worse, his campaign became a model of dysfunction, infighting and intrigue as a new group of advisers that had been grafted onto his longtime team never came together.
Perry will be left to reflect on whether it could have been different, and he no doubt believes he deserved better. In the final days of his campaign, long after he had any hope of resurrecting his chances of winning the nomination, he was better. He showed flashes of the skilled retail campaigner he was reputed to be. His last debate, in Myrtle Beach on Monday night, was one of his best.
But it was too late. As his advisers and loyalists acknowledged in the days leading up to his withdrawal, Perry was proof of the adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression — and his first impression was politically disastrous.
The debates proved his undoing.
Under fire, Perry maladroitly defended a Texas law that provided in-state college tuition to high school graduates who were residents of the state and children of illegal immigrants. “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” he said.
The immigration issue caught his advisers totally unaware. In Texas, the law providing in-state tuition had been long settled and accepted. Elsewhere, among conservative Republicans, it was toxic. But Perry’s team had not adequately researched the potential impact, nor was the candidate prepared for the reaction to his unfortunate choice of words, which outraged conservatives.