In the first of what will likely become a regular drumbeat of similar phenomena as the Invisible Primary reaches its peak, Rick Perry’s campaign admitted yesterday that it was no longer paying campaign workers at its headquarters in Austin, or in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. At the same time, Super PACs associated with Perry reportedly still have plenty of money (they together raised $17 million), and will try to compensate for what the official campaign cannot do.
So we are seeing an early test of two questions many have been asking: (1) Will failing to make the Fox News debate cut last week doom the candidates left behind (Perry just barely missed the cut)? and (2) Can a broke campaign be saved by a flush Super PAC without illegal coordination?
On the first front, we’ve already seen one “kiddie table” candidate, Carly Fiorina, rise from the dead, though in her case it was by popular demand insofar as every living Republican wants to see and hear a candidate who can attack Hillary Clinton with the special gusto of someone not having to fear she’ll come across as a piggy little sexist bully. It’s not really clear that in this vast field there’s something Rick Perry brings to the table no one else does. But the constant references by Team Perry members in the WaPo story on their money problems to some future breakthrough in a debate indicates how critical it’s become for the former Texas governor to shake the impression of a guy who might get eaten alive in a general election debate.
As for the legal problems associated with Perry’s SuperPACs just taking over his campaign, the key question is: who’s going to enforce the rules? The FEC? Really? We may see an early indication that limits on what wealthy individuals can do in politics truly have been abolished.
As for Perry’s ultimate fate, every article on his money troubles–including this one!–will inevitably note that in 2008 John McCain’s campaign went through a similar crisis, and even without the help of a Super-PAC, he survived and won the nomination. That was, of course, something of a miracle, requiring a candidate demolition derby in and immediately after Iowa and a universally known media darling in McCain who served as a fallback. 2016 doesn’t look like that sort of scenario at all, but you cannot blame foundering campaigns from clinging to it like a fetish.