When the Republican candidates take stage in Cleveland for the first presidential debate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will likely be watching from his hotel room somewhere. The candidate who briefly dominated polling in the 2012 contest and began this campaign in the middle of the pack, looks to settle in 11th or 12th place when the debate cut-off is set.
His relegation to the consolation stage hours before the main debate is largely a consequence of the ongoing Donald Trump boomlet. While almost all candidates have suffered in the polls as the real estate developer has surged to the top of the pack, few have suffered so directly from the Trump phenomenon. Perry seemed to bet his early candidacy on attacking Trump. That strategy has backfired spectacularly.
When Trump launched his presidential campaign in early July, he led with a broadside against illegal immigration and focused specifically on criminal activity of illegal aliens. Political commentators and the media naturally seized on Trump’s remarks, but Perry took specific issue with the comments. He criticized Trump strongly on cable news shows and even released a video attacking Trump.
A few weeks later, when Trump made an off-the-cuff remark about John McCain and seemingly criticized his war record, Perry again jumped into the fray and demanded the competing candidate apologize for the remarks.
Perry has stepped up his criticism of Trump in the weeks since. In fact, his criticisms of Trump have been almost the entirety of his media mentions during his campaign. Even Sunday, just days ahead of the cut-off to participate in the first debate, Perry vowed to continue his critique of Trump.
“I’m going to push back and push back very hard,” Perry told Chris Wallace of Fox News. Unfortunately for Perry, he is likely to be pushing back from the audience, not the debate stage.
Before Trump launched his presidential campaign, Perry was polling around 6th or 7th among the Republican candidates. That would have earned him a podium for the first debate, where Fox News had ruled that only the top 10 candidates would participate.
Now, just days away from the date at which the first 10 slots are determined, Perry is polling around 11th or 12th. He trails New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and even new candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
It is a stunning fail for the longest-serving Texas governor, who, even after his 2012 implosion, was expected to compete in this nomination contest.
He chose to seize on the specifics of Trump’s comments and lost sight of the fact that the sentiments behind those comments resonate with many conservative voters. He thought he had a “Trump” card and played it.
He can ponder that decision from the consolation debate stage.