It’s never a good sign when a presidential campaign’s insiders begin dishing dirt on their colleagues before voters start expressing their preferences. Take Rick Perry’s team, for example.

Four months ago, the Texas governor was the frontrunner and expected to excel in Iowa. Today, Perry appears likely to finish fourth or fifth, and may soon face questions about the long-term viability of his campaign.

It’s against this backdrop that Politico has a fairly-long piece on Perry’s advisers who’ve “begun laying the groundwork to explain how the Texas governor bombed so dramatically in a race that he seemed to control for a brief period upon entering the race in August.”

Their explanations for the nosedive come against the backdrop of a campaign riven by an intense, behind-the-scenes power struggle that took place largely between a group of the governor’s longtime advisers and a new cadre of consultants brought on this fall. In the end, the outsiders won out — and ever since have marginalized Perry’s longtime chief strategist while crafting a new strategy in which the Texan has portrayed himself as a political outsider and culture warrior.

In a series of interviews with POLITICO, sources close to the campaign depict a dysfunctional operation that might be beyond saving because of what they describe as the political equivalent of malpractice by the previous regime. […]

In a blistering indictment, sources close to the operation describe a new team that was stunned to arrive in October and find a campaign that wasn’t executing the most rudimentary elements of a modern presidential campaign: no polling or focus groups, no opposition research book on their own candidate to prepare for attacks and debate prep sessions that were barely worth the name.

It’s hard to know for sure whether this is entirely true or campaign pros trying to cover their butts, but if Perry and his team, as recently as October, didn’t see the need for polling, oppo, or debate prep, it’s no wonder they seemed so inept.

It wasn’t just one problem that derailed Perry’s campaign, but I’d argue it was immigration policy — the in-state tuition, followed by the governor’s “have a heart” comment — that largely caused his precipitous decline. But consider this problem in light of the behind-the-scenes trouble: if Perry’s campaign were competent, the team would have expected the criticism on this issue, crafted a coherent response, and avoided the backlash in September. It’d likely be a very different race today.

But the combination of naivete, hubris, and incompetence led to a campaign that was practically “set up for failure.”

“They put the campaign together like all the other Perry campaigns: raise a bunch of money, don’t worry about the [media coverage], don’t worry about debates and buy the race on TV,” said a top Perry official. “You have to be a total rube to think a race for president is the same as a race for governor.”


Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.