The last time I saw Rick Perry was the evening of Sunday, August 9 at the Black Hawk County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner at the Electric Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa. He was at the top of his game, delivering what would work, with very little adjustment, as his acceptance speech at next summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Here’s some video I shot of it from the back of the room. It’s not great video, but you will get the idea. Perry is explaining why his experience as governor of Texas has prepared him like no other for serving as president.
Afterward, an ebullient Sam Clovis, statewide chairman of Perry’s Iowa campaign, was ebullient.
“It’s the best I’ve ever seen him,” Clovis said.
I returned to Texas the next day impressed by the campaign team Perry had put together in Iowa. Much of it, including Clovis, had been the core of Rick Santorum’s bare-bones but ultimately winning Iowa campaign four years ago.
Here is how the Perry campaign described Clovis in announcing his role in early July:
Sam Clovis will serve as Iowa Statewide Chairman. Sam Clovis is a professor of economics at Morningside College and the director of the Col. Bud Day Center for Civic engagement. He holds a doctorate in public administration and an MBA in management and a BS in political science from the United States Air Force Academy. He served 25 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot. He is also an expert on Russia and the Middle East. Sam was also a successful executive with numerous private sector companies before entering academia. He is one of the most popular Republican activists in Iowa.
And here’s Clovis explaining why he chose Perry.
But, no sooner had I returned to Texas than word leaked that the Perry campaign, strapped for cash, had stopped paying staff, though Jeff Miller said all but one member of the Perry team in Austin and critical early states were staying on, pay or no pay, while the pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom super PACs, still flush with cash, indicated they would pick up the slack, even hiring a ground team in Iowa.
But then, Monday afternoon, the AP reported Monday that Clovis had told them he was leaving the Perry campaign.
That sounded to me like very bad news for Perry.
I called Clovis. He was driving along Highway 20, and had been inundated with calls ever since the AP report appeared.
“I have not been off the phone for 200 miles,” he said. “It’s unbelievable how much interest this has stirred. I live in Iowa and I don’t understand the impact or the reach of this. I don’t think of myself as that important a person.”
Clovis explained his decision.
“I had not heard from the campaign in quite some time and I assessed that they were making adjustments based on their situation and I was not part of that conversation. I had said I would hang in there with him early on but I never heard from them. It made it difficult. I wasn’t party to the communications, I didn’t know what the schedule was.”
Clovis, who ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2014, said he knows what it’s like to be low on dough.
When it happened to him, “I couldn’t figure out what to do, and I wasn’t the most communicative person in the world at that time and I understand the circumstance, so I thought it would be an easier thing for me and a more honorable thing for me to just step aside so that I wouldn’t have to be part of the equation for them to figure out what to do. I figured out they had plenty on their plate and they didn’t need to worry about me. So I sent he governor a note.”
“I think the world of Gov. Perry. I think he’s a great guy, a great man and I really admire him and I was honored to be part of the campaign, but I just felt like that perhaps they had priorities they needed to deal with and they didn’t need to worry about me.”
“I thought the (conference) call (with the Austin office) on the tenth (of August) was a call that was going to congratulate us and lay out the Iowa strategy because I had talked to Gov. Perry that Sunday morning, on the ninth. I had said, `This what we have to do,’ and he made the commitment to do it, and I thought the call Monday night was to say, `Here’s the rest of the strategy,” and instead they said, `We can’t pay you, everybody go look for work.’ That wasn’t the call we were expecting.”
Clovis said it had been ten days since he had talked to anyone else in the Perry campaign – in Austin or Iowa.
“We really had a good group. We’re all friends. We’ll all be together at some other point too. Jamie’s a great guy – one of the most extraordinarily interesting people I’ve known in my entire life,” Clovis said.
Jamie is Jamie Johnson, who, while based in Iowa, as senior director of the campaign is involved in the early state campaigns in New Hampshire and South Carolina as well.
I called him after talking to Clovis and he said he remained committed to Perry
“I’m on board. I can’t speak to what everybody else is doing but I’m standing with the governor,” Johnson said.
As to the lack of contact with the campaign headquarters in Austin, “I’m not sure what Sam is talking about.”
He said he had been in close touch with them, including a conference call Monday afternoon.
“We’re going forward with the limited resources that we have but we’re full of hope that the governor can turn things around in fundraising. We expect the governor to have a great performance in the CNN debate at the Ronald Reagan Library.”
And Johnson said that after a two-week hiatus, “my salary was reactivated” Monday.
Indeed, not long after the Clovis news hit, Breitbart was reporting that the Perry campaign was back to paying some staff.
Exclusive: Back in Business? Rick Perry Paying Staff Again
Good news for former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX): – the campaign has resumed paying some of its staff after financial issues forced them to freeze pay.
As Breitbart News reported, news broke at the beginning of this month that the Perry campaign would be freezing campaign salaries to make sure sufficient funds remained to allow Perry to maintain his busy travel schedule to conservative events and early primary states. All but one staffer, who had to leave for financial reasons, agreed to work on a volunteer basis, and many Team Perry members took to social media to express their confidence that their candidate, supported by the millions of dollars raised by his Super PACs, would be able to turn this situation around.
Perry’s campaign launched a fundraising push that pulled in several hundred thousand dollars, but it was not clear when or if the campaign staff might be paid again. Then, Monday evening, Breitbart News spoke to Perry campaign manager Jeff Miller, who said that they “had started putting people back on the payroll in Iowa and South Carolina.”
This is not the entire staff — Perry’s campaign headquarters are in Austin, Texas and they also have some staffers in New Hampshire — but it is a positive sign that they were able to start resuming pay less than a month later.
Well, perhaps the news out of Austin was an attempt to avert a Clovis sell-off. Maybe it was already in the works. I don’t know.
But Perry’s problem remains how to escape the purgatory of the second tier of the Republican debates. Being there is not fatal in and of itself. Carly Fiorina used it as trampoline to vault into the mix, though it is not clear whether the CNN criteria will deny her a place in the top ten. But even if she’s not, it is unlikely that Perry will make the cut for the big show.
From Erick Erickson at RedState.com:
But there is one candidate I believe really should be on the debate stage and I think has earned the right to be there, but who may not be there because of polling. That would be Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
We are spending a great deal of time discussing the border. Rick Perry has had to deal with it for 14 years.
We are spending a great deal of time discussing Planned Parenthood. Rick Perry stood up to them.
We are spending a great deal of time talking about the economy. Rick Perry created 1.5 million jobs while the rest of the nation combined lost 400,000 jobs.
We are spending a great deal of time talking about abuses of justice by the Democrats. Rick Perry is under a current indictment even Democrats like David Axelrod have acknowledges was brought on by partisan politics and not the rule of law.
I think Rick Perry deserves a second chance. I think he deserves another look after 2012. The Texas indictment is, at this point, weighing down donors despite even Democrats admitting it was partisan and not legitimate. Perry may still have to get through a trial to get it tossed.
His 2012 debate performance lingers on too.
Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Rick Perry’s good should not be interred with his 2012 performance. He deserves another shot.
I am so happy for a number of the Presidential prospects this time. But I am disappointed the public might not get to see Rick Perry on stage at the CNN debate to let him put his 2012 back surgery and performance behind him so that he can stand on the merits of his arguments and a performance not hindered by the pain of back surgery.
Austin Barbour, who is guiding the Opportunity and Freedom super PACs, told the Washington Post and Texas Tribune:
He’s going to get one breakout performance at a debate and he’ll really jump up in the polls. Voters need to see him perform very well at a debate…This is a very fluid field, things will change a lot, and we will continue to be very patient.
But, based on his past performance, it is hard to imagine that, even in the unlikely event that Perry got into the main-stage debate next time, that he could use it to great advantage. Even without any kind of blunder, even if he performs adequately, debating is simply not Perry’s forte. The words pour forth. You now what he’s saying. But he simply lacks the precision and clarity of a Carly Fiorina or a Ted Cruz, the music of a Marco Rubio, or the compelling pithy bluster of Donald Trump.
From Ed Kilgore, writing at Talking Points Memo shortly after the Fox debates, under the headline, What We Can Learn From Rick Perry’s Brief Rise And Tragic Fall:
But you have to give Perry credit: He seemed to go about preparations for Rick 2.0 quite methodically. He first offered a medical explanation for his 2012 disaster: a bad back plus painkillers plus sleep deprivation. He then worked hard to erase the image of a brainless cowboy he had managed to convey (captured by Texan Paul Begala’s comment that Perry was “the perfect candidate for those who thought George W. Bush was too cerebral”).
There were the famous glasses, of course. But more importantly, he attracted some high-life intellectual (Avik Roy, a key Reformicon health care thinker) and political (Sam Clovis, darling of Iowa conservatives and a key Santorum supporter in 2012) assets to his early campaign. He burnished a reputation as a leader in the state-based conservative movement for criminal justice reform. And just last month, Perry even gave a National Press Club speech on the legacy of racism that managed to impress liberals.
But the warning signs were there: Despite a good Super-PAC haul (an estimated total of $17 million), Perry raised a paltry million bucks for his official campaign by early July. That’s just not Texas-sized money. And even as other late-announcing candidates like John Kasich managed to come up with last-second poll-boosting ad campaigns, Perry wound up as the odd man out—11th out of 17—in the fraught competition for the ten spots on the Fox News first candidate debate stage. Most ominously, he addressed a 2012 weakness by spending a disproportionate amount of time and money in Iowa, but is running 12th—that’s right, 12th—in the last two polls from Iowa.
Perry theoretically had a chance to elevate himself last week at the preliminary Fox News “Happy Hour” forum, but sounded rushed and forced; what little buzz came from this event was mostly corralled by the smooth stylings of Carly Fiorina. And so now what’s left of Perry ‘16 will depend on skirting the very edge of the law by off-loading routine campaign expenses on Super-PACs (a bit of a risk for a guy still under indictment for alleged abuse of power), and somehow getting enough positive attention to raise some money for his official campaign. That probably would require a stellar performance in still another presidential debate, CNN’s on September 16. Debates remain his nemesis.
There’s no particular reason Rick Perry should throw in the towel before that debate. Like every other candidate with money troubles, he and his people will cite John McCain’s return from financial disaster in 2007-08 as a precedent, though Perry’s not exactly John McCain and the vast 2016 field is hardly the weak and self-canceling field of 2008. But Rick Perry hardly strikes fear in the hearts of liberals anymore, and his triumphalist strutting is as long gone as the high oil prices that fed his Texas “economic miracle.”
This is not, as Kilgore notes, the “self-canceling field” of four years ago – the realm of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain and even Newt Gingrich.
Perry’s hopes for 2016 depend on a veritable Jonestown of self-destruction among the rest of the field and that just seems very unlikely.
In the meantime, the kind of campaign talent that Perry had, and apparently continues to have, in Iowa, is in incredibly high demand.
“I heard from multiple campaigns today – `When you make up your mind make sure you keep us in mind; we’d like to have you, you’d be a great fit for our campaign,'” Clovis said. “As somebody said, `Are you shopping around?’ I said, `No, they’re shopping me, I’m not out looking for anything. I don’t have to.”