Rick Perry for President: A Post-Mortem

Why is Rick Perry out of the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States?

Because the man and his Campaign messed up. Bad. He had the opportunity to introduce himself to the nation that any candidate would give his right arm for and he flubbed it. It was like watching a slow-motion trainwreck. Worse is that it was not the media’s fault, it was not the so-called “Establishment’s” fault, it was not the fault of either Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, Cain, Huntsman or Bachmann, it’s not Obama’s fault , it’s not even the fault of those damn RiNOs in Iowa and New Hampshire – the fault was and is entirely in the hands of Rick Perry and his campaign.

Let’s not forget that Rick Perry entered the race to an incredible outpouring of support – he was clocking 40% in some polls and he was the immediate recipient of torrents of cash. That wasn’t some “Establishment” plot. He had it virtually sown up. All he needed to do was deliver a Bachmann-level performance at the debates or just simply tout and defend his record of service, and it would have been a two-man race between him and Romney – with Romney firmly on the bad side of the bet.

But, of course, the Perry Campaign entered the race with the odd (and fatally arrogant yet firmly held theory) that “Debates Don’t Matter” and decided to forgo any semblance of debate prep or wargaming to figure out his weakspots and most importantly, figure out a proper defense and counter-strategy to neutralize them and get them off the table. Whatever else you may think about the quality of the debates (and the moderators), the fact that millions of people (AKA voters) all across the nation were going to be watching them, and afterwards even more millions would be seeing snippets of them on the news broadcasts, and the fact that they’ll be on YouTube (gaffes, warts and all) for all eternity, made them matter.

That the Gardisil, instate-college tuition rates for long-resident illegal immigrants and Trans-Texas Corridor issues obviously caught the Perry Campaign by surprise had me scratching my head in confusion. How the #@ck could every single upper-echelon member of the campaign have failed to warn the Governor about these issues when they were front and center of almost every Perry “Will-He?-Won’t-He?” discussion online and on talk-radio for weeks? How could his only response, whenever statistics were called out by moderators to make Texas (the only reason he’s on anyone’s radar) sound like some Third World country was “… blah blah get America working again …”?

The truth of the matter is, with the sole exception of their fantastic handling of the infamous 53-Second Oops moment, no campaign team has so ill-served their candidate on the national stage, and I’m including Cain’s platoon of bumbling amateurs. But thanks to “Debates Don’t Matter” coupled with a cookie cutter campaign and utterly non-responsive devoid of any kind of innovation (seriously – just take a look at the farce that is rickperry.org), Rick Perry’s 11 year record of achievement in Texas – a record that has every other candidate on the stage green with envy – never became a (much less the) factor in the race that it was supposed to be.

Even worse, it seems the entirety of the Perry Campaign missed what everyone else (even a thorough non-professional like me) was worried about when we were still at the “Will-He?-Wont-He?” stage; will the voters be ready to send another Texas Governor to the White House so soon after the last one left under such a (largely self-inflicted) cloud?

Of course, every Republican candidate, to some extent during the general election campaign, would be forced, in some way, to disassociate themselves with George W. Bush. Even if the Obama Campaign neglects to mention it (highly unlikely) at every opportunity, his Amen Corner in the Press certainly would not i.e. “Willard Newt Perry, a Republican, like George W. Bush …” Perry would have had a much harder time of it of course, given that not only do Rick Perry and George W. Bush come from the same party, same state, and hold the same office in Texas before seeking the Presidency, they were even on the same ticket.

Nonetheless, being a Republican, a Texan and a Governor of Texas like Bush, even being George W. Bush’s Lt. Governor, all of which would be helpfully pointed out early and often by many journalists in breathless and ominous tones, is something any competent campaign can survive. Being also perceived as dumb – “like Bush” – in addition to the aforementioned things in common, is, I submit, something else entirely. It still stuns me that despite the Press telegraphing their intended narrative template when covering Rick Perry i.e. stupid, with multiple liberal columnists and talking heads all chiming in at the same time (Journolists in action) with articles bearing helpful tell-tales titles like “Is Rick Perry Too Stupid To Be President?”, the Perry Campaign still needed three debates to finally decide that debate prep was a worthwhile investment.

Of course, neither George W. Bush nor Rick Perry is dumb – the United States Air Force has never been in the habit of putting multi-million dollar pieces of equipment which can kill lots and lots of people in one single moment of carelessness in the hands of low IQ individuals. But this is politics, and in politics, perception trumps reality. Otherwise, how the heck could a first-term Senator, with no history of accomplishment, all sorts of questionable associations, virtually no paper trail, and certainly no executive experience of any sort, win the Presidency of the United States?

Because the simple fact of the matter is that the number of voters who go out of their way to research candidates’ records and scrutinize their every word and deed is actually very very small. What is at least a heavy plurality, if not a majority, of voters (even among the generally more engaged and knowledgeable Primary electorate) are political morons who vote based on gut feelings and impressions of the candidate that they get from watching coverage of the candidates on TV and from a quick glance at the headlines of newspapers and magazines at the checkout counter. For many Americans, that is the full extent of their research into who gets their vote to be the Leader of the Free World. And there’s not much to suggest that Republican Primary voters are really that much different.

The problem here is that the Primary voter who casts her vote for Mitt Romney because “he looks Presidential” counts just as much as the politics junkie voter who decided to give her vote to Rick Perry after her careful objective line-by-line scrutiny of every candidate’s record. A successful candidate needs to figure out how to appeal to the bulk of voters between these two extremes. In other words, a candidate needs to figure out that combination of style and substance to get the voters’ attention, win them over and keep them on side. Think of it like running a successful restaurant, taste (substance) matters above all but so does presentation (style).

Instead the Perry Campaign came up with “Debates Don’t Matter” and of course that came along with the bone-headed resulting lack of preparation over not one, not two, but three debates. Then they decided that debates may matter but only in the service of repeating the same campaign buzzphrases (i.e. “Get America Working Again”) and talking point of the day irrespective of the question asked. By the time they figured out that the debates (no matter what you may think of them) were actually quite important, Rick Perry – with a record in executive office any Presidential candidate would envy – had been tuned out by most voters as a dud, and is now basically seen as either just another dumb Governor from Texas who just happened to be around when Texas was doing good.

This – that a Presidential Campaign needs to appeal to more than its base of support and tailor its messaging and delivery to suit its intended audience – is something many Perry supporters online seemed incapable of understanding. So when anyone pointed out, at least here on RedState, that Perry was not doing a good job on the media and communications front (especially at the debates) with fence-sitters, the typical Perry devotee response was that Perry had them convinced so anyone thinking Perry should make any adjustments should go pound sand. One particular lady thought it was good idea to repeatedly tell people who (no matter how politely and/or carefully) expressed any concern about Perry dropping the ball at the debates, or simply mentioning his precipitously dropping poll numbers, to shut up and “vote for someone else!”

Well, a lot of people obviously took her advice in IA, NH and apparently were going to do so in SC. I’m still not quite so sure how telling people to “vote for someone else” helps your candidate but I dont’t doubt there was a lot of passion but not quite as much logic involved.

Speaking of which, and again, focusing on RedState and its more passionate Perry supporters, Perry won every single debate, every (usually non-responsive) answer was a home run, every move his campaign made was a distillation of brilliance in its purest form. And of course, the drop in his poll numbers was a sign of some vast Left-Wing Media and GOP Establishment conspiracy to get Romney elected – the debates (which didn’t matter because “Debates Don’t Matter”) themselves were a part of the conspiracy to bring him down because “everyone” apparently knew he would flub them and stubbornly refuse to change course until it was too late.

Of course, the reality is rather more mundane; his campaign – quite apart from its boneheaded approach to the debates – sucked. A competent campaign, upon seeing that their candidate is not good at debates, would have flooded the zone with videos of Perry in other forensic formats (i.e. one-on-one interviews, townhalls, etc.) that he’s obviously more comfortable with. A competent campaign would have had a better website than the plain sad one that was rickperry.org. A competent campaign would have responded more aggressively to the Washington Post’s “N#$%erhead Rock” hit-piece.

A competent campaign would not have failed the simple task of securing enough signatures to get on the Primary ballot in Virginia.

There are many knowledgable Primary voters in IA and NH, who went out to research his record and genuinely would have loved to vote for Rick Perry. But they ended up voting for other people because just simply observing his campaign, it was clear that there was no way he could beat Obama’s billion dollar machine.

That’s why Rick Perry is back in Texas today.