The Political Equivalent of Peaking in High School

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TPMCafe asked me this week to reflect on the slow but steady decline of Rick Perry, a subject I addressed here yesterday. My editor suggested Perry was like one of those people who peak in high school. And indeed, thinking about his explosion onto the presidential campaign scene four years ago tomorrow at the 2011 Red State Gathering in Charleston, it’s been quite a long road down.

I don’t know about you, but the day Perry announced in 2011, I thought he was terrifying. After his formal speech to a hooting, hysterically cheering crowd of Erick Erickson’s friends, he did a sort of encore outside the venue, and went strutting up and down a narrow stage, threatening doom and destruction to godless liberals everywhere. And I thought Are we really going right back to George W. Bush on that aircraft carrier? It seemed possible, thanks to Rick’s vast treasure-chests of money and his secret handshakes with the Christian Nationalists and his “Texas Miracle” narrative and the extreme vulnerability of a small and shaky Republican field. One cartoon at the time showed him ripping a small but live donkey limb from limb as yahoos threw their hats in the air. It seemed appropriate to the mood.

The wheels came off the Perry juggernaut with amazing speed, and ironically, he called it all off in South Carolina, the same place where it started a few months earlier. And despite a long stretch in the wilderness reading up on the “lessons learned” from his campaign, and a promising restart that actually included some interesting ideas and attracted some interesting supporters, it’s looking like Perry’s 2012 nemesis, poor debate performances, is doing him in again, perhaps for good this time. Even if he lingers in the race for a while, and even if some sort of comeback is possible, there’s no longer anything terrifying about Rick Perry.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.