There’s an old saying that success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. That’s not entirely true; when a big enterprise fails, it usually produces a thousand claims for paternity for someone else. Normally people wait for the failure to actually happen first, but sometimes there are good reasons to get ahead of the curve — as Rick Perry’s campaign did with a series of leaks to Politico:
With a revamped message and a significant TV presence here, Rick Perry is hoping to revive his disappointing presidential campaign with a surprise finish Tuesday.
But even as they hold out hope that Perry can find a way back into contention, some of his advisers have begun laying the groundwork to explain how the Texas governor bombed so dramatically in a race that he seemed to control for a brief period upon entering the race in August.
For those who watched the debates, the culprit is obvious — the candidate himself. It wasn’t his handlers that fumbled rehearsed attack lines and had to say “Oops” when the candidate lost his train of thought in the middle of an answer. None of that, by the way, is a disqualifier for office, either. Perry has successfully governed Texas for more than a decade, because governing takes an entirely different skill set than these game-show debates do, which is one of my biggest gripes about them. However, the debates matter, and Perry did poorly in them, which was the catalyst to his polling collapse.
Several members of Team Perry now claim that Perry wasn’t the real problem:
Yet the view of the outsiders who took over Perry’s campaign is that the candidate was set up for failure by an insular group led by Dave Carney, the governor’s longtime political guru, which thought they could run a presidential campaign like a larger version of a gubernatorial race and didn’t take the basic steps needed to professionalize the operation until the candidate was already sinking.
“They put the campaign together like all the other Perry campaigns: raise a bunch of money, don’t worry about the [media coverage], don’t worry about debates and buy the race on TV,” said a top Perry official. “You have to be a total rube to think a race for president is the same as a race for governor.”
Because Perry had never been defeated in his career in state politics — and came from behind to crush Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in last year’s Texas gubernatorial primary — his Texas operation projected an air of supreme self-assurance and indifference to outside advice.
Carney, a longtime GOP strategist who worked for Bush 41’s presidential campaigns, declined to comment for this story.
“I don’t think so,” he said in response to an email asking to get his side. “Not much good can come from process stories like this.”
Given Perry’s rise in the polls in Iowa — he’s back in double digits, just behind Santorum and just ahead of Gingrich in the two most recent polls — one might wonder why the campaign has provoked what looks like an internecine fight. That’s not really what this is, though. In order for Perry to regain credibility as a contender, and especially as a Not-Romney who can take on Barack Obama, the collapse of his campaign in October has to be laid at the feet of someone other than Rick Perry.
Carney probably doesn’t appreciate that he’s being made out to be the fall guy, especially since the early team did a pretty good job until the debate flubs started; they raised $17 million in the first seven weeks, but made a couple of questionable strategic decisions about going negative before truly introducing Perry to the national audience, which didn’t help, either. Carney’s experienced enough to know that the new team has to distance Perry from the failure if Perry wants to seriously compete for the long haul, though, and getting into a public debate over the failure won’t help Perry to accomplish that.
Besides, the new team arrived in October. Which Perry team was most responsible for fumbling the ballot qualifications for Virginia’s primary in mid-December? The blame for that can’t fall on Carney, at least not entirely or even mostly.