There is a hardy saying in American politics: Campaigns don’t end, they run out of money. Rick Perry’s campaign has run out of money and can no longer pay its staff, who have been freed up to find work elsewhere. Part of the ending/running-out-of-money ritual requires an official spokesperson to bravely deny the obvious, the job of which has fallen to Katon Dawson, Perry’s South Carolina state director. Dawson tells National Journal that the lack of pay will not stop them because “We’ll be able to live off the land for a while.” In fact, “living off the land” is what an invading army does in enemy territory when supplies are unavailable, seizing crops from the local farmers to feed its troops. That is not, you know, legal, nor does it offer a promising model for a presidential campaign, unless Perry’s plan is to transition into a literal guerilla campaign. And, yes, Perry has previously declared sympathy for secession, but at the moment he lacks the insurrectionary support needed to carry out a policy of mass agricultural expropriation.
There is something a little sad about the demise of Perry’s campaign. Four years ago, he was perfectly positioned to win his party’s nomination. He was the governor of a huge state that had enjoyed rapid economic growth, and he articulated a fanatically anti-Washington message that perfectly suited his party’s mood. But Perry’s bout of debilitating back pain required him to take huge doses of painkillers to make it through the ordeal of the campaign (and, especially, the debates). And so he presented himself to America as a confused, overmedicated rube, crashing and burning in spectacular fashion. He briefly attempted to brand himself as a theocon who couldn’t understand why the gays could serve in the military while the public schools could not openly endorse Christianity, but it was too little, too late:
The 2016 version of Rick Perry has presented a more flattering profile. He has drawn snickers for wearing glasses, though it is entirely possible he just needed to see better. He delivered a somewhat thoughtful speech on race relations. He proposed some interesting ideas on financial regulation.
But politics are not always fair. His old ideological niche has been superseded by a more flamboyant Texan, Ted Cruz. Perry just missed the cut to make the prime-time Republican presidential debate, and failed to make an impression at the kids’ table. His new persona of reasonably thoughtful mainstream conservative has gone over no better than his old persona of overmedicated secessionist.