- Abby Rapoport: Perry campaign failed because he didn't use strategy that worked in Texas
- She says there he used on-the-ground operation drawn from political science research
- She says presidential campaign was study in poor preparation, infighting, bad moves
- Rapoport: Perry needed time to adjust to limelight; Texas playbook might have helped
Today, Rick Perry finally announced he was suspending his presidential campaign and, in doing so, ending the excruciating parade of mistakes and miscalculations that left many in the national audience wondering how this guy ever got elected governor of Texas. But as we review all the political errors and bone-headed gaffes the campaign committed over the last six months, the biggest mistake is easy to miss: Perry and his team didn't stick with the strategies that made them such a strong political force in his home state.
Rick Perry's 2010 gubernatorial campaign was a masterpiece of political strategy. Running against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a politician who had both better poll numbers and deeper pockets, Perry was supposed to be the underdog. By all appearances, the only way he could win, was if he could get a low-turnout primary of party loyalists.
Of course, that's not what happened. His team decided to pursue what was, at the time, an unusual strategy. They charged for yard signs and didn't bother with mailers. They held off on television until just before the primary. They invested most of their dollars instead into a massive grassroots effort known as Perry Home Headquarters. They asked supporters to find 12 pro-Perry votes among their friends and family and then promise to get those people to the polls. Perry ultimately won the primary in a landslide—with unprecedented turnout.
It was an innovative idea based in science. In 2006, then-chief Perry strategist Dave Carney had allowed four political scientists to get up close to the campaign and study which tactics yielded the most votes.Such collaboration is almost unheard of, but the Perry folks used the information to create one of the most effective grassroots operations in the country. The professors found that most typical campaign tactics, like mailers and robocalls, have almost no impact on delivering votes. Television's effect was short lived. Only grassroots organizing actually seemed to deliver votes.
It's a nice tale of political innovation. Who could have guessed what would follow?
Perry's campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire were almost entirely based around television ads. In South Carolina, the team even invested in mailers—which their own research said was ineffective. Grassroots campaigns take a long time to establish, but Perry and his team chose to wait until August to jump into the race. No aspect of his presidential bid had half as much innovation as his 2010 effort.
In the meantime, his close-knit circle of loyal strategists soon became its own telenovela. Basic campaign functions didn't seem to be happening, like prepping for debates and preemptively finding skeletons in their candidate's closet. His policy proposals weren't ready in time for debates or appeared to be cribbed from an interest group white paper. As his poll numbers continued their descent, reports began to surface of unrest in the ranks.
Political strategists who'd previously worked for Perry's rival, George W. Bush, came on board to help right the ship, unseating longtime Perry strategist Carney. The dramas only got worse from there. In a last ditch effort for Iowa, the campaign produced a homophobic ad against gays serving openly in the military. Almost immediately, we learned Perry's team was split on the controversial ad. Before it was released, one top adviser had said the ad was "nuts."
When it comes time to remember Rick Perry's foray into national politics, most of us will remember gaffes so bad you wanted to make it stop. There was the time he said the American Revolution was fought in the 16th century. The time he got the number of Supreme Court justices wrong. That crazy maple syrup speech in New Hampshire. And of course, the time he forgot one of the three agencies he would cut as president ("Oops"). It seems obvious, in retrospect, that he needed more time to adjust to the limelight and learn the issues. And it's certainly possible that the innovative strategies he used in 2010 wouldn't have been enough to save his candidacy.
But you've got to figure they would have helped.