Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s best days of his campaign were the first and the last. He went out with a high-minded exit speech that sounded a familiar note of losing candidates — “the mission is greater than the man.” He gave a nod toward his limited government ideals (“what we need is a Washington that is humbler, with a federal government that is smaller so our people can live freer”). He then endorsed Newt Gingrich and began immediately to defend him as the uproar over his ex-wife’s interview is drowning out other news:
I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country.
We have had our differences, which campaigns inevitably bring out. And Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?
The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God and I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my own Christian faith.
And I have no question Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer, the ability to rally and captivate the conservative movement and the courage to tell the Washington interests to take a hike if it’s what is best for the country.
Newt shouldn’t call Perry as a character witness, but it was a helpful,if defensive-sounding, endorsement. Notice that Perry did not say Gingrich would be the most electable or the best nominee or is the most qualified.
Right Turn never put much stock in the Perry buzz, to put it mildly. What we saw — a cocky, inarticulate Texan, who’d helped himself and his friends to the benefits of the office, with a startling disinterest in policy — soon became conventional wisdom. The seeds of his collapse were actually there for all to see, in the local coverage of his long gubernatorial record. He had, in essence, led a charmed political life. His favoritism and cronyism hadn’t given him much grief politically. He was a conservative in a conservative state with a part-time legislature and a local press corps, which he took delight in manhandling. Nothing had prepared him for the rigors of the presidential race. And when he strutted into venues with his Texas rangers in tow it was obvious that his self-image bore little resemblance to his actual abilities. (This is a common failing of governors who get lots of trappings of power.)
In the end, the public figured out Perry wasn’t presidential material. That’s exactly how the primary process should work. Now we’re down to a manageable four candidates, so voters can assess who does have the character, the record, the ability and the vision to lead the party and the country.