Is ending the Rick Perry campaign the smartest thing the Rick Perry campaign has done?
I don’t want to kick someone when he’s down, but Perry’s decision to retire from the race for the presidency — if CNN is to be believed — seems like the first time his campaign made the right decision on a major call. Perry entered the race with a lot of favor and a lot of credibility, as a very successful governor of the nation’s largest red state, and an abundance of wealthy supporters and organizational support. I was an early critic because I thought he mixed faith and politics in the wrong ways, and I heard from many people protesting that “he’s the real deal.” Well, maybe he is the real deal, but it never came across. Through missteps, malapropisms and memory misfires he quickly squandered all the good will that was lavished upon him as the first truly credible Romney alternative.
The “true conservatives” were clamoring for Perry to quit before South Carolina, in order to focus the religious conservative vote in either Santorum or Gingrich. Most were encouraging him to support Gingrich, since they think Santorum does not have the organization or staying power to mount a serious challenge to Mitt.
All this scrambling to get behind Gingrich seems absurd to me, for the simple reason that Gingrich is, by a long shot, more inconsistently conservative than Romney. This was apparent even before his brazen attacks on venture capitalism. Gingrich is also spectacularly self-destructive. If you thought that the Iowa attack ads brought out the snarling ego-beast in Newt, wait until the attacks are coming hard and heavy from the Obama campaign and all its most powerful allies. Hitching your wagon to Newt is like hitching your wagon to a time-bomb.
Former staffers for Newt say that they used to write down every single thing Newt asked them to do, and delegate them for execution. Then they’d come back and say, “We did X, Y and Z.” Newt would ask, “Why’d you do that?” He had just been throwing out ideas. Eventually they learned that they shouldn’t actually do anything he asked them to do unless he asked at least twice. This isn’t the worst quality, of course, but it’s consistent with a guy who just doesn’t have much in the way of discipline and self-control. Support for Newt dropped by 20-25% overnight when Republican primary voters got a better look at him; you think it’s going to go better when the American electorate as a whole gets a better look?
I would have more respect for Perry if he endorsed Santorum. Santorum’s a better fit with his social conservative values, and with his faith-ful approach to politics. But the pressure to rally behind Gingrich is a lot stronger. Perry’s endorsement will almost certainly not change the outcome in Florida; time will tell whether it will make a difference in South Carolina.