The news that Rick Perry has stopped paying all of his campaign staff following Thursday's debate is a sure sign of major troubles -- and could be the leading edge of the collapse of his campaign.

If this is the end -- and Perry's super PAC support could well keep him on life support for a bit longer -- it would be a remarkable bit of timing: Perry entered the 2012 presidential race as its frontrunner on August 13, 2011 -- almost four years to the day when it's become clear that his second bid for the presidency has faltered badly.

For Perry, that four year period speaks to just how important timing -- and performing -- are on the presidential level. And how fickle the public can be.

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At this time in 2011, Perry was the talk of the political world. He had yet to enter the race -- he did so on the day of the now-deceased Iowa Straw Poll --  but polling suggested he was widely regarded by voters as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney that they had been shopping for.

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Less than three months later, it was effectively over -- thanks to a series of poor debate performances capped off by "oops."

Perry's decision to run again -- after such a disastrous first campaign -- made very little political sense. Polling suggested that Republicans had made up their minds about Perry during that first campaign -- and concluded that he simply wasn't up to the job. Nice guy. But not ready for primetime.

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As I wrote many times between the end of Perry's first campaign and the start of this one, it's extremely difficult to get a second chance to make a first impression in politics (or life). But, if you read Perry's quotes -- or talked to people around him -- you got the distinct impression that this second campaign wasn't fundamentally about winning, it was about rehabilitating his image from the last campaign.

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In the wake of the last campaign, a top Perry aide said that the back surgery the governor had undergone in July 2011 had created major problems for him throughout the campaign. "The whole campaign was built on a very aggressive, arduous schedule of travel in order to make up for lost time," [Perry consultant Dave] Carney said at a campaign post-mortem event at Harvard University. The pain, Carney added, made it challenging for Perry to even sleep.

Perry, the theory went, would be free of that pain this time around. And, he remained the same appealing candidate on paper that he was when he entered the race four years ago. Wrote WaPo's Dan Balz on Perry's second candidacy: "He and his advisers think that, if he was overestimated but ill-prepared four years ago, he is the opposite now, underestimated and in their judgment readier for the challenges that a presidential campaign presents."

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And yet, Perry has struggled mightily to convince voters that his 2012 campaign was the exception not the rule. He raised barely over $1 million during the first six months of 2015 although super PACs supporting him did bring in $17 million -- on the backs of two donations totaling $11 million.

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Perry's poll numbers have never even come close to the heights he enjoyed in 2012.  He was relegated to the kids table debate last Thursday and even in that lower-profile forum (it ran at 5 pm on Fox News Channel) he exhibited some of the halting nervousness that characterized his debate struggles four years prior.

Yes, Perry will likely plod on in the campaign because, well, he can  -- thanks to his super PAC.  But, staying in the race and being a viable candidate aren't the same thing. Perry's financial troubles are indicative of the systemic problem at the heart of the campaign: He simply isn't a good enough candidate to overcome what people believe to be true about him. (That is, of course, that he is not a very good candidate.)

Perry had his chance in 2012. He swung and missed. This campaign is an attempt to reverse history and start again. Which almost never works.

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