Rick Perry dropping out of the 2016 presidential race is a damn shame. It's an indictment of Republican voters, who express a preference for entertainers and oddities, of the Republican Party apparatus that allowed Perry to languish at a "kid's table" debate, and the media institutions that spent more time talking about Donald Trump's hat than the success of governors.
The GOP needed Rick Perry in these debates. Not because he is particularly great at debating — he's not. And not because he has experienced any of the normal upward twitches associated with a successful campaign — he didn't. He should have been up there because anyone with any damn sense in their head knows he's better qualified than half of the people on the stage, and he has a better story to tell.
Do people really believe Rick Perry is a less credible presidential candidate than Ben Carson? Does anyone think Carly Fiorina is more credible in America's high politics than Perry? Or that Chris Christie has a better shot at uniting the party's various factions and winning the White House?
Obviously idiots who answer polls think so.
But I'm addressing myself to the people who matter. And I mean that to sound contemptuous. I don't feel any democratic angst to respect the opinions expressed in polls in the first weeks of September. If you surveyed likely voters, asking them to hum a few notes from a famous piece of music, the NBC chimes would outpoll Mozart and Beethoven every time.
There are people who matter in this process, the people who populate the mediating institutions of our politics in the Republican National Committee and in the media organizations that come up with rules for entry. And stupidly, these mediating institutions surrendered their own authority to that of opinion polls during a time when almost no one is paying attention to the election. They think it makes them look impartial and fair. It doesn't. With 17 candidates, and so little mental energy to sort between them, any low-polling candidate could rip a memorable fart in the undercard debate and get enough free press and a subsequent polling bump to get into the top tier.
I don't know why Rick Perry didn't do so himself. But it doesn't matter. He was until recently the long-serving governor of Texas. That state's governance is the best argument for his candidacy and for Republican control of the levers of state power. Texas has thriving, growing cities where middle-class families experience upward mobility and find employment. Texas was one of the first states to bounce back economically — yes, partly because the energy sector bounced back first. And Texas made up an oversized portion of the overall American economic recovery under Obama. And the recovery in Texas is is far more equitable than it is nationwide, reaching middle- and lower-class families, too.
Texas has a story Republicans should be anxious to share with the rest of the country. Unlike the Mormon-Mountain West, whose success may be partially attributable to strong bonds of social cohesion that cannot be replicated by a political program, Texas is a diverse state, ethnically, religiously, and culturally. Texas looks like a possible future in which America is thriving.
That record of success should have been enough to overcome some of Rick Perry's deficiencies in the highly unusual environment of a podium debate. The debates are a necessary evil, but it is stupid to pretend that being good in them is the measure of a presidency. If the best debaters made the best presidents, we'd be living at the tail end of unprecedented conservative governance led by successive Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes administrations.
That Rick Perry's candidacy was buried by early polling numbers is a travesty. It's an over-worshipful deference to democratic-looking tools, like opinion polls. The result is a process that unnaturally favors electoral-curiosities like Ben Carson, or candidates who can only credibly represent one sect within the national party, like Mike Huckabee. Or free-media bonanza candidates like Donald Trump.
Four years ago I trashed Rick Perry's tax plan, and his performance as a campaigner. But he made credible moves to improve his policy shop, and became one of the brainier candidates in the race. The records that Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal are touting are far more ambiguous than Perry's.
For the sake of the party, for the sake of honoring the success of Republican governance in a large state, Rick Perry's presidential aspirations needed to be protected from the hurricane-season of stupidity. He didn't lose because he is a loser. He lost the way great poker players lose at tournaments with too many players. Pure dumb luck.