Rick Dunham, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau Chief wasted no time in posting this analysis of what went wrong with Perry’s campaign. It’s good as far as it goes, but there’s always more to add, so join me as we take a trip down Memory [Lapse] Lane at the rise and fall of our Secessionist-in-Chief…
You all know the “oops” moment. You know about that really weird speech in New Hampshire. And the other campaign missteps. But if Rick Perry’s campaign was damaged by a series of small (and sometimes large) gaffes, it was doomed by a number of major strategic miscalculations. Here are eight of the most important:
Underestimating the importance of debates - Presidential primary debates hadn’t been important for the past 32 years (since Ronald Reagan destroyed George H.W. Bush with a single quip in Nashua, N.H.). They were in 2012. Perry hadn’t had a serious debate in a dozen years and he wasn’t ready for the debates to become Republican voters’ favorite reality TV show of 2011.
How about “Underestimating the importance of coherence?!”. Whether behind the debate podium or at a campaign event, Rick's inept performance left millions wondering whether English was his first language. Or whether he was intoxicated, medicated, or just messed up. Granted, shunning debates in Texas meant that he missed out on valuable lessons, such as working with your team ahead of time to anticipate questions, craft responses, and develop some attack strategies for your opponents. You might even jot down some notes or write some hints on the palm of your hand with a Sharpie.
Preparation for a presidential campaign is really, really important - God may have called Rick Perry to run for president. But, as Perry joked this week, He didn’t tell the Texas governor he was going to win. You need to prepare the groundwork for a national campaign, from a grassroots organization to a media strategy. Perry jumped into the deep end of the pool. And he hadn’t yet learned to swim in the murky waters of presidential politics.
While he may have jumped metaphorically, in actuality, he stepped very carefully into the race, only a few weeks after spinal surgery, even giving up his beloved cowboy boots and donning orthopedic shoes and a back brace. You try swaggering in that kind of gear! (And for the record: the waters weren’t murky until he joined the race). And another thing: Rick will never know whether God called him, or whether it was one of his Aggie pals making a crank call. Next time, get caller ID.
Running for president is not like running in Texas - The Texas electorate is not a cross-section of anything except the Lone Star State. Issues that resonate in Texas — and particularly the rhetoric and boastful nationalism — do not translate in other regions. (We mean Iowa and New Hampshire in particular.) The Texans who have transcended “Texas-ism” have gotten elected: the Bushes. (They were born in New England, of course.) The Texified Texans — John Connally, Phil Gramm and Lloyd Bentsen — never got their campaigns off the ground.
Running for president is not like bragging about secession either. It’s tough to walk that tightrope between aspiring to lead the country and threatening to leave and return to the days of the Republic of Texas. You really do have to chose one or the other, and stick with it. 25 million Texans are absorbing the news that you're heading home. Some of us have developed carpal tunnel responding to the many inquiries about why on Earth we would ever have elected (or re-elected) you. If you're anticipating any sort of Texas-sized "welcome home" festivities, you might want to ratchet down your expectations. The mood here is pretty glum.
Money does not buy happiness - Perry entered the race with a bang and raised more money than any other presidential candidate in the last three months of last year. But having more money in the bank on January 1 — and spending more than anyone else in Iowa — didn’t ensure success. Message trumps money every time. (That is, if you have ENOUGH money to get your message out.)
In addition to having a message, you need a messenger. This campaign lacked both. It also lacked any credible surrogates to carry a message (had there been one).Having your weepy, whiny wife yammer on about how everything’s so awfully unfair is not “getting your message out”.
Message discipline is vital - What was the theme of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign? There were dozens of them, it seemed. We had the jobs candidate, the electable candidate, the tough Texan, the family-values candidate, the gay-bashing candidate, the pro-immigration candidate, the Joe-Arpaio-immigrant-bashing candidate, the true conservative, the truest conservative, the authentic conservative and many, many more. When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he had one disciplined message: The compassionate conservative who would restore integrity to the White House, “so help me, God.” Never wavered.
See above. Before you can have “message discipline”, you need a message, and a messenger. The only lasting message from this campaign is a cautionary tale about the perils of mixing red wine and pain meds.
Underestimating the strength of other conservative candidates - On paper, Perry was the strongest conservative. Successful, job-creating governor of a big state. Proven money-raiser. Undefeated in nine elections. His strategists thought they could come in and steamroll the large group of conservative White House wannabes. They discovered that Herman Cain was more glib and more polished as a debater. Newt Gingrich rose from the political dead like a rotund Phoenix. Rick Santorum made a stronger connection with fundamentalist Protestants. Michele Bachmann, even as she was self-destructing on the campaign trail, delivered devastating attacks on Perry as a “crony capitalist” who violated the rights of families by “forcing” young girls to be immunized for a sexually transmitted disease.
Yeah, when Michele Bachmann can eviscerate you in a debate, it might be time to "suspend" your campaign. This is what happens when you surround yourself with “yes people” as advisers. They continue to prosper as long as they continue to fawn over you and tell you how great you are, how excited they are now that you’re on the way to the White House, and how lucky they are to be helping with your awesome crusade. Couple that with a belief – real or feigned – that you were hand-picked by God for the presidency, and you’re thinkin’ “Damn, I can do this! I really can”. Turns out that God made a bunch of calls that night, and you’re not the only chosen one. A better team would have found ways to exploit the many weaknesses of your rivals. Instead, your team let you stumble through the campaign, witless and unprepared. Other than late-night comedians, nobody else bought your shtick.
Old stories can become new problems years after they first surface - Team Perry did not realize how much trouble a few old Texas news stories could become in a national campaign. Perry’s support for in-state tuition for children brought illegally into the U.S. by their parents became a hot-button issue — and Perry was pounded by Mitt Romney for being “liberal” on immigration. The Texas governor compounded his problem by suggesting that critics of the in-state tuition were heartless. He also learned that the 2007 immunization story, long buried in Texas, would become a bigger story in Des Moines than it was in Dallas. Opposition research on yourself is vital. Perry didn’t respond quickly or effectively to controversies that were easily predictable (and should have been easy to deal with).
Those of us in Texas know that these stories are only the tip of the iceberg. The more interesting stories were only hinted at, and we hoped that they'd stay under wraps until you gained some traction on your way to the nomination. If you’d really done opposition research on yourself, you'd have been as shocked as we were. At least you were able to get those deep-pocket donors to buy into the dream. Next time, they'll be doing more thorough due diligence before "investing" millions in a failed candidate.
Organization is much more important than they thought - Mitt Romney’s been running for president for six years. Newt Gingrich has had a national political network for 30 years. They entered the race with political supporters in every state, which translated into political surrogates and fund-raising reach. Perry created the best Iowa organization money can buy (and he put together a pretty good one in South Carolina), but he couldn’t build one in the other 47. (We give him a pass in Texas.) Evidence of his weak national organization: He couldn’t muster the necessary signatures to qualify for the March 6 primary ballot in Virginia.
There’s hubris, and then there’s Texas hubris. So far, most problems he's encountered could be dealt with by timely applications of large sums of money. Until the time comes (2016?) when we elect presidents with a high bid on EBay, we’ll still need organizations to work with the great unwashed masses of voters. It’s not enough to put on some folksy cowboy outfits and spout incomprehensible patriotic platitudes in red, white, and blue ads with mood music.
These 8 reasons are a good start, but I know that you wonderful commenters will be able to add to the list with your usual incisive wit and literary brilliance, so have at it!