Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave up his flagging campaign for president Friday afternoon, saying he did so with “no regrets.”
Towards the end of a speech at the Eagle Forum, a conservative Republican group, in St. Louis, Perry said, “When I gave my life to Christ, I said, “your ways are greater than my ways. Your will superior to mine.”
“Today I submit that his will remains a mystery, but some things have become clear. That is why today I am suspending my campaign for the presidency of the United States.”
Perry is the first of the 17 Republican White House hopefuls to abandon the quest, despite his strong name ID and record during 14 years as governor. He had failed to make the cut for the top tier GOP presidential debate at Reagan Library Wednesday. He also missed the cut for the first debate.
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Perry’s fund-raising was so weak that he had stopped paying most staff last month and was down to one paid aide in each of the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina, and had abandoned New Hampshire. This week he was unable to keep his campaign office in the Palmetto State open.
The former Texas governor was among the first in the GOP field to criticize frontrunner Donald Trump as the real estate tycoon began to ride his wave to the top. He took aim at Trump again in his exit speech, though not by name, by warning conservatives not to be wrapped up in celebrity.
“For me, the message has always been greater than the man,” Perry said. “The conservative movement has always been about principles, not personalities. Our nominee should embody those principles. He – or she – must make the case for the cause of conservatism more than the cause of their own celebrity.”
In another dig, Perry riffed on Trump’s “make America great again” slogan by saying “Let’s make America, America again.”
For his part, Trump tweeted after Perry’s announcement that the former governor was “ a terrific guy and I wish him well- I know he will have a great future!”
Ironically, it was Trump who correctly predicted last week that Perry would be dropping out of the race, which Perry denied in a confusing non sequitur about “even a broken clock being right once a day.”
It was Perry’s gaffes that ultimately sank his earlier 2012 bid and he was never able to overcome the memory of it with voters.
When he announced his candidacy in August, 2011, he looked like a strong, durable choice: The long-serving governor of Texas, able to raise big money quickly, politically battle-tested, conservative, but down-to-earth enough to win friends among a broad constituency.
He quickly vaulted to the top of Republican primary polls that month, well ahead of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and eventual party nominee. Perry, though, quickly stumbled, a fall culminating in what’s now called the “oops” moment.
It came during a debate in Michigan in November. He was discussing how he’d shrink the size of the federal government.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – Commerce, Education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see. Oh five – Commerce, Education and the um, um,” Perry said.
Romney, standing nearby, suggested the Environmental Protection Agency. Yes, said Perry, who quickly thought about it, and said no, the EPA should survive. So what was the third agency?
“The third agency of government I would do away with – the education, the uh, the commerce and let’s see. I can’t the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
That sealed Perry’s fate. He finished a distant fifth in the Iowa caucus with 10 percent. Sixteen days later, he dropped out of the race, endorsing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
No path to victory
For the 2016 campaign, Perry prepared carefully for two years, studying issues, especially foreign policy, and adopting a new look, stylish glasses instead of contacts, that gave him a more thoughtful image.
But voters – and donors – weren’t buying the transformation. And money was becoming tough to raise.
“He’s not clicking with Republican voters outside of Texas,” said Dennis Goldford, political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.
In the Real Clear Politics average of recent presidential polls, Perry was at .8 percent.
“It is extremely difficult for a candidate registering in the very low single digits in the polls and having no realistic path to victory to raise money, especially the thousands of donations needed for an official campaign to be viable, given the $2,700 primary donation limit,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was one of the first of his rivals to issue a release commenting on Perry’s exit: “I commend him for running an honorable, positive campaign and wish the best to him and his family.”
Texans still in the hunt
Perry may have left the race, but plenty of candidates with Texas connections remain.
The state’s junior U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, has been moving up in recent polls and remains a solid contender in the pack behind Trump. Two other candidates also still in the running who grew up in Texas are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, son of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
Still another GOP candidate was born in Austin — Carly Fiorina, 60, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO and unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate in California.
Cruz praised Perry, calling him “a friend and a remarkable public servant. He is a proud veteran who bravely served our nation, and he was an extraordinary governor of Texas.
“... Because of his principled leadership as the longest-serving governor in the state's history, Texas has become a haven for freedom, entrepreneurship, and limitless opportunity. The entire Republican field was unquestionably made stronger by the experience and wisdom he brought to the race.”
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report.
Rick Perry bio
James Richard “Rick” Perry
Born: March 4, 1950 in Paint Creek
Family: Wife, Anita, two children, two grandchildren
Education: Texas A&M University, animal science, 1972
Military: Pilot, U.S. Air Force 1972-1977, left as a captain
Career: First elected as a Democrat, Texas House of Representatives 1984-1990
▪ Ran Texans for Al Gore in 1988 campaign
▪ Switched to GOP 1989
▪ Texas Commissioner of Agriculture 1990-1998
▪ Lt. Gov. of Texas 1998-2000
▪ Governor of Texas 2000-2015, longest serving governor in Texas history