NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- "As a Texan, I've never shied away from a fight," Rick Perry said in explaining his decision to drop out of the 2012 campaign as a "strategic retreat."
"This campaign has never been about the candidate," said the Texas governor, who soared to the top of the polls after announcing his Republican presidential candidacy in August, but saw his support evaporate after a series of disastrous debate performances in September. "I've always believed the mission is greater than the man."
Perry endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom he called a "visionary" and referred to as "a conservative leader who will bring about real change." Perhaps mindful of the latest news about Gingrich -- his ex-wife's decision to give a tell-all interview to ABC News -- Perry said, "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?"
During his press conference at the Hyatt Place hotel here, Perry kissed his wife Anita, saying she had been "an incredible patriot during this process." He called his failed presidential campaign a "privilege to learn and grow."
Perry's late entry to the GOP presidential field was attended by much media fanfare suggesting that he was certain to win the Republican nomination by becoming the conservative alternative to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Yet his campaign signaled overconfidence by its decision to skip the Iowa GOP Straw Poll in Ames -- a traditional Republican campaign ritual -- and instead announce his candidacy in South Carolina at a conference sponsored by the popular Red State blog. That was the first of many blunders by Perry and his campaign team. His poor debate performances were the most public of these embarrassments, but there were many other mistakes, as I explained last week:
His campaign reportedly spent $250,000 in their effort to win a Sept. 24 Florida GOP straw poll, only to be embarrassed by a lopsided loss to Cain.
Attempting to revive his candidacy, the Perry campaign spent millions of dollars to air TV and radio ads in Iowa ... and achieved nothing but a fifth-place finish.
Perry reportedly was ready to quit after that humiliating loss, but instead decided to continue. Rather than campaigning in New Hampshire, Perry came directly to South Carolina only to experience further catastrophes: He denounced Romney as a "vulture capitalist," which caused one of Perry's major donors to shift his support to Romney and also caused Rush Limbaugh to compare Perry to Fidel Castro.
Exactly how valuable Perry's endorsement will be to Gingrich is hard to estimate. Perry's support in South Carolina had dwindled to single digits (4 percent in the latest Marist poll) and his decision to quit the race two days before Saturday's primary may have been motivated by a desire to avoid being seen as a "spoiler."
Yet if Romney ultimately wins the Republican nomination, it can be argued that Perry's entire campaign -- doomstruck from start to finish -- accomplished nothing but to confuse conservatives, distracting them from viable conservative opponents to the moderate from Massachusetts. This is exactly what I predicted in August: "What I fear will happen is that Perry will spend several months sucking up media oxygen and burning through GOP donor cash, only to collapse early next year. This will have the effect of suffocating other conservative candidates, and thereby lead to ... Romney 2012."