It didn’t work.
For the 2016 race, the longest-serving governor in Texas history swapped cowboy boots for eyeglasses, hit the road again, promoted his state’s job-creating prowess, boned up with policy experts. This would be a humbler, better prepared candidate, ready for the national spotlight, he promised.
Now, barely three months after Perry announced presidential bid No. 2 in a broiling airplane hangar outside Dallas, the reboot is history.
So, too, seemingly is the political career he wanted to revive.
“It’s a fool’s errand to think, ‘I ran before, I made these mistakes so I’ll fix them and everything will be fine,'” said Dave Carney, the architect of Perry’s 2012 campaign. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
It was no surprise when Perry announced Friday in St. Louis that he was suspending a campaign that was nearly broke and polling at close to zero. Still, such a precipitous drop was once hard to imagine for a savvy politician who had presided for 14 years over Texas and its booming economy.
Perry, 65, hasn’t announced his retirement, but so far there’s been no repeat of the pledge, made after the 2012 debacle, not to ride off into the political sunset.
He could turn up on the political speech circuit or find work as a TV analyst. But Perry appears to be out of options for elected office. A U.S. Senate run would mean challenging Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite elected in 2012 and now among the pack of GOP presidential hopefuls, or John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican who just won a new term last year.
For now, expect Perry and his wife, Anita, to hang out at their recently built home in rural Round Top, about 80 miles from Austin and a stone’s throw from football games at the former governor’s beloved Texas A&M.
“We have our house in the country, we have two beautiful children and two adorable grandchildren, four dogs, and the best sunset from our front porch that you could ever imagine,” Perry said Friday. “Life is good.”
Many observers saw today’s Perry, who displayed strong one-on-one campaigning skills and country charm during frequent Iowa visits, as a far stronger candidate than four years ago. Back then, he was a brief front-runner until he flamed out after failing to remember during a debate the name of the third federal agency he had promised to shutter if elected.
“Oops,” he muttered sheepishly.
It was the Energy Department, joining the Departments of Commerce and Education on the Perry hit list.
“You saw a different guy, but he was invalidated by that gaffe,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “He worked his tail off, he put a lot of effort in. But there was no way he could have recovered.”
This time, Perry trumpeted being an Air Force veteran, talked up his experience with the Texas-Mexico border, gave a memorable speech on the Republican Party’s uneasy relationship with race relations and launched a populist attack on Wall Street banks.
Early and often, he said Donald Trump was a destructive force in GOP politics.
But Perry’s dismal polling did not improve enough for him to make the main stage of the first debate. After that, a lack of campaign cash caught up with him.
Perry long had proved himself a powerhouse fundraiser in Texas and well connected nationally. But aides say he was surprised by how quickly donations dried up when he left office in January.
Some unfinished business still awaits: a felony indictment from an Austin grand jury last summer. Perry is accused of publicly threatening, then carrying out, a 2013 veto of $7.5 million in state money for public corruption prosecutors. That came after the Democratic head of the unit rebuffed Perry’s calls to resign following her jailing for drunken driving.
A Texas appeals court nullified a coercion charge that Perry had faced, but he still is accused of abuse of power. Perry has asked the state’s highest court to toss that, too.
Now, no matter what happens, Perry will not have to deal with the prospect of leaving the campaign for possible court appearances.
“As prepared as he was, as great a governor as he was,” said Roy Bailey, a longtime Perry supporter and top Texas donor, “he just didn’t get that second look.”