In hindsight, the likely failure of Rick Perry's presidential ambitions shouldn't have been all that surprising. Despite appeal among party elites, late-entry candidates like Wesley Clark in '04 and Fred Thompson in '08 have historically struggled to catch up to the rest of the field. The candidates in the race from the beginning have a chance to work out all the kinks before the spotlight glares at the debate stages, an experience that would have proved especially crucial in Perry's case. He's always been a loose-cannon campaigner with, shall we say, a less than thorough grasp on his material. It was a problem his campaign staff could mitigate by limiting his media exposure in Texas elections but couldn't avoid on a national stage. After just four debates during his decade as Texas' governor, Perry was bound to produce a series of gaffes during the tiring slog of presidential campaigning.
None of that should have been a surprise. What has been shocking to watch is the process under which Perry has been labeled a RINO who lacks the same core convictions to conservative dogma as someone like Newt Gingrich. Perry terrified liberals when he entered the race; he vouched for the most extreme elements of conservatism but had somehow attained an air of credibility that has eluded Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. With a list of constitutional amendments he'd like to see overturned and a penchant for secessionism, Perry was the clearest opponent to federal government all wrapped up in a religiosity that was ready-made for the social conservatives that rule the day in Iowa and South Carolina.
Yet a series of slipups on immigration in the debates and a steady stream of attacks from the other candidates settled the perception among Republican voters that Perry was less than committed to conservative doctrine, and there is apparently nothing Perry can do to counteract that image. Earlier this week, the country's leading anti-immigrant activist, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, endorsed the fumes of Perry's presidential campaign. Arpaio holds a particular notoriety for xenophobia even in Arizona, a state that has become synonymous with harsh laws against undocumented workers thanks to the tent city he uses to house inmates captured in workplace raids. "The federal government has failed on border crime and border enforcement, and no candidate for president has done more to secure the border than Governor Rick Perry," Arpaio said, according to the Huffington Post. That was paired with a shift in Perry's own rhetoric, now advocating for the deportation of every single undocumented worker. But even Arpaio's endorsement might not be enough for Perry to correct his image problem among conservative voters; as the Texas Tribune reports, "There were few visible signs that the Arizona sheriff’s blessing will revive the governor’s campaign," during its stops in New Hampshire yesterday.