Rick Perry and the 10 biggest presidential campaign flops
By Aaron Blake,
The Texas governor who entered the Republican presidential field five months ago with such a roar exited with a whimper this morning.
But where does the Perry campaign rank in the historical record of all time worst presidential campaign flameouts?
Below we take a stroll down memory lane to bring you the top 10 biggest presidential campaign flops.
A quick disclaimer: This is based on conversations with sources and other reporters and represents our best efforts to nail down the 10 best examples. Because it is based on personal recollections, we are sure that it is incomplete and that it tends toward more recent examples. (That whole “recency effect” thing.) But we encourage readers to take to the comments section below to let us know what we missed. Consider this the beginning of a conversation we’ll have on this blog.
And away we go!
10. Jack Kemp (1988)
The former congressman and professional football quarterback was a media favorite (think Jon Huntsman) who was being billed as then-Vice President George H.W. Bush’s top competition. But he never lived up to that hype. Kemp didn’t finish better than third in any state and dropped out after Super Tuesday. He was still well-regarded within the GOP political establishment, though, and became the GOP’s 1996 vice presidential nominee.
9. Wesley Clark (2004)
Clark was the first in the recent run of late-entering, would-be-party-saviors gone wrong. As a retired military general, Clark was seen as the antidote for Democrats who were worried about coming off as too dovish in their opposition to the Iraq War. (See Dean, Howard.) But his campaign never hits its stride, and a series of confused answers on whether he would have supported the Iraq war undercut his entire campaign from the start. Clark actually won a state – Oklahoma – but was never really a threat to the eventual nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
8. John Connally (1980)
Like Perry, Connally was a Texas governor and a former Democrat. Also like Perry, he entered the 1980 campaign with a big persona, perceived oratorical gifts and quickly began outraising his opponents. But while he was running a national campaign, George H.W. Bush was focusing on Iowa, and Bush’s victory there made him the clear alternative to the frontrunner, Ronald Reagan. Connally took 9 percent of the vote in Iowa and 30 percent in South Carolina but didn’t win even 2 percent in any other state.
7. Phil Gramm (1996)
The Texas senator began the 1996 race, in true Texas fashion, by raising big money, and he used that financial edge to tie frontrunner Bob Dole for first place at the Ames Straw Poll. By the time the actual votes began, though, Gramm was in very much the same position Perry found himself this year – a long shot. In the first contest, the Louisiana caucuses, Gramm actually finished second to Pat Buchanan, despite Louisiana’s proximity to Texas. Then came Iowa, where Gramm took fifth place. Only Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has fallen further between the Ames Straw Poll and the actual Iowa caucuses.
6. Teddy Roosevelt (1912)
Roosevelt was a popular former two-term president, but he soon became upset with his hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft. So he challenged him for the GOP nomination in 1912. Roosevelt won nine of 12 states holding primaries that year, but most delegates were awarded outside the primary process, and Taft’s campaign did a better job rounding up those delegates. Taft wound up overwhelming Roosevelt at the convention, winning on the strength of his support in the conservative wing of the party. Roosevelt went on to run in the general election as a third-party candidate, finishing second but splitting the Republican vote with Taft and handing the election to Woodrow Wilson.
5. Fred Thompson (2008)
Thompson was Rick Perry before Rick Perry. The former Tennessee senator and “Law and Order” star entered the 2008 GOP primary late when it looked like the race was missing a clear conservative favorite. But it never seemed that Thompson’s heart was really in it, and his notoriously lackadaisical campaign schedule (and performances) in Iowa pretty much defined his campaign. He finished third in Iowa and South Carolina and dropped out.
4. Rudy Giuliani (2008)
The former New York City mayor parlayed his strong response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks into a national profile and sterling image as “America’s mayor.” But while he might have been the country’s mayor, he wasn’t the Republican Party’s cup of tea. He entered the 2008 race as the clear frontrunner in national polls, but wound up spending $59 million in his campaign and winning just one delegate.
3. Rick Perry (2012)
The Texas governor was supposed to be the guy who united the GOP establishment with the tea party in a year where nobody else was doing that. He was supposed to be a guy whose oratory really got the party excited in a race where nobody else was very exciting. All that lasted up until his first debate performance. Perry showed himself to be utterly out-classed on the debate stage and never did anything to define himself as anything but a poor debater. His campaign was effectively over after his “oops” moment, but he had enough money to stay in the race long enough to take fifth place in Iowa. He got .7 percent — not a typo — in the New Hampshire primary.
2. Ed Muskie (1972)
The Maine senator, former governor and 1968 Democratic vice presidential nominee entered the 1972 campaignas the Democratic frontrunner. Despite wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Muskie’s margins were so underwhelming that they were regarded as defeats. After press reports called into question his wife’s personal character, Muskie held an impassioned press conference (video clip here) in front of the Manchester Union Leader newspaper at which some reported he had cried, even though Muskie insisted it was snowflakes melting on his face. Still, that was effectively the end of his campaign. (For a great retrospective of Muskie’s campaign, be sure to check out the late David Broder’s lengthy piece.)
1. Gary Hart (1988)
Any campaign best known for the phrase “Monkey Business” has to be No. 1 on this list. After a strong showing in the 1984 Democratic primary, Hart, a Colorado senator, entered the 1988 race as the favorite. When rumors of marital infidelity surfaced, Hart dared the media to follow him around. They did, and they observed a young woman (later identified as Donna Rice) at his Washington, D.C., house. A few days later, pictures of Hart and Rice on a yacht called “Monkey Business” — so good! -- surfaced. Hart dropped out less than a month after launching his campaign.