We finally found the ideal candidate to beat Rick Perry, and it turns out to be ... Rick Perry. After winning every single election since 1984, Rick Perry finally lost one in Iowa. Others may cite Perry's late entrance into the race, his recent back surgery, or the relative weakness of his Democratic opposition in Texas for his prairie flameout, but Rick Perry has no one to blame but himself.
Every politician has a fatal flaw. Bill Clinton never quenched an appetite to please while in office, and George W. Bush never stopped trying to one-up his father. It's too early to identify Barack Obama's Achilles heel, but we can safely end this therapy session with a definitive diagnosis for the Texas Governor: hubris.
Hubris helped this son of a dirt farmer become the most powerful governor in Texas history. But it also drove him to impose a hybrid vision of unregulated private enterprise and unrestrained religious dogma upon state government without regard to the real world consequences.
Perry's untethered arrogance is the only logical explanation for how a skilled politician flopped so badly as a presidential candidate. In Texas, his campaign team innovated new ways of polling and imposed a scientific rigor on paid communication unheard of at the state level. Strategically, his campaigns minimized risk and but were bold in seizing opportunity where others saw threats. In 2006, he turned a backlash on lax immigration policies into a talking point on border security. In 2009, he came from way behind against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by co-opting the Tea Party movement when no other politician would go near it.
None of those political traits showed up in the presidential campaign. Despite an extended exploratory phase this summer, his team did not do the quiet, hard work of a campaign: no polling, no self-research, and no debate prep. Perry's hubris blinded him into giving too much credit to the evangelical supplicants who promised to anoint him as the anti-Romney as soon as he entered the race. His campaign seemed like all he and his consultants did was sit around and tell each other how great it was going to be. No one ever bothered to get ready for the actual campaign.
Initially, the polls only fueled Perry's hubris as he quickly became the frontrunner. Then the debates happened. After one performance Fox News' Brit Hume said, "Perry really did throw up all over himself in the debate." In retrospect, that was not even close to his worst debate. "There's nobody that had worse debates than he did," said CNN commentator and Clinton veteran James Carville, who called Perry the worst presidential candidate in history.
By the time Perry's wife Anita demanded that he bring in some consultants who knew what the heck they were doing, Perry had become one of America's most unpopular politicians and a frequent punchline for the Letterman-Leno-Stewart axis of easy jokes.
All the king's bus tours and all the king's admen could not put Rick Perry back together again after the debates. When he turned in a fifth-place finish in Iowa, his departure from the campaign seemed like a sure thing when he said, "With a little prayer and reflection, I'm going to decide the best path forward."
He literally jogged down the path. During his morning run, Perry decided he wasn't ready to quit. Only 12 hours after promising to "determine whether there is a path forward," Perry tweeted that he was ready for "the next leg of the marathon" and his wife was telling reporters that she loved grits. Without telling some of his advisers and closest supporters -- including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who minds the governor's office when Perry's away campaigning -- Perry decided to continue through the fog down the path to victory that only he could see.
Sticking with a bad idea is par for Rick Perry's course. His 2006 campaign manager, Luis Saenz, told me that the enraged opposition to Perry's plan to create a network of private, tolled highways did not deter Perry from pressing forward.
"You just got to roll with it and don't dwell," said Saenz. "I don't think anybody [in Perry's world] dwells on it. Maybe we have some supporters who are freaking out, but it's like, thanks for the call, you know?"
It's hard to stop a politician who doesn't listen when his friends are shouting, "Stop!" You might even describe a guy like that as excessively arrogant, but Perry's not the introspective sort. His hubris blinds him to seeing his own mistakes, much less learning from them. When asked what Rick Perry's biggest mistakes in office were, Saenz couldn't name one.
"If there were some, I forgot about them," said Saenz. "And he probably did, too."
Continuing his campaign is a huge mistake because it will waste the money of his campaign contributors and Texas taxpayers, but it won't affect the outcome. Perry has already lost. His polling profile is marginally better than Jerry Sandusky's and Rod Blagojevich's. Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum could die in a plane crash tomorrow, and Rick Perry would still not get the Republican nomination. In the free market of politics, he is Flooz.
And if he could see himself clearly, Rick Perry would know that.