Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rick Perry Quits, Endorses Gingrich

Rick Perry announced that he was quitting the race today during a press conference in which he also endorsed Newt Gingrich. Perry was expected to quit the race after the South Carolina Primary this Saturday, in which he would have finished poorly. Perry's decision to quit early was likely based on his desire to avoid the embarrassment of taking last place in Saturday's contest. Now, Perry can at least make the claim that he was acting selflessly to help the conservative vote coalesce behind someone other than Mitt Romney.

How will this change the race? For some time now, Perry has had no chance of winning the nomination. His departure is beneficial to Gingrich, though not as much as one might expect: Perry was already polling in the mid-to-low single-digits. His remaining support would have eroded before voting day in each contest anyway, with most going to Gingrich. This occurred in New Hampshire, where Perry's few points of support went down to 1% on voting day; Jon Huntsman experienced the same effect in Iowa, where his few points went down to 1% on the day of the Iowa Caucus.

Gingrich at least benefits from the fact that someone other than Romney has now been endorsed by a departing candidate. Also, Gingrich no longer has to worry about Perry switching tactics to attack him, though Perry can no longer attack Romney, either. The downside for Gingrich is that Perry's departure raises expectations: Gingrich can't claim he's being handicapped by the conservative vote splitting among multiple candidates. He is only competing against Rick Santorum.

Perry's candidacy was a high-profile failure. Expectations for Perry were high. He was the first candidate to experience a surge and bust, having taken a big lead in all the polls (except in New Hampshire) during late August and early September. At that time, Perry was considered the frontrunner. But Elephant Watcher never gave Perry more than a 21% chance of winning the Republican nomination. Even so, Perry was considered competitive with Romney until the debates in September. As time went on, Perry grew worse in the debates and was decisively defeated by Romney after the third debate. Perry's support declined and was cannibalized by a series of other Anti-Romneys, including Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. Perry completely collapsed after his extraordinary "oops" gaffe during the debate on November 9th. He did not, and could not, recover after that.

Perry is likely to be remembered as one of the worst debaters in American political history. He enjoyed many advantages in the race: Plenty of executive experience, institutional support, money, ease with "retail poliics," and a strong conservative record. But nothing could overcome his poor debate performances. In the future, candidates will recognize the vital importance of the debates, and will hopefully take greater care to prepare for them.

The Campaign Status page has been updated to reflect Perry's departure. Judging by the tenacity of the remaining candidates, this could be the final time the Campaign Status page changes until a candidate secures victory.