“Setbacks are unknown to him,” said Bill Miller, a veteran Texas lobbyist and consultant. “He has no experience with it. He’s never quit because he’s never lost.”

For a few hours following his drubbing in Iowa, it seemed that moment had finally arrived. Perry’s emotional speech at the Sheraton West Des Moines late Tuesday left staffers teary-eyed but somewhat relieved, and with the unmistakable impression that he was going home for good, that a formal withdrawal announcement was imminent.

“It’s done,” said one senior campaign official, when asked if there was any chance Perry might stay in the race.

Then came the caveat.