What a difference 48 hours can make in a presidential campaign. On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry pledged to soldier on in the South Carolina Republican primary, "Lord willing," he said, "we'll do well and continue on." Thursday, the Texan changed his mind. He ended his campaign and endorsed Newt Gingrich in the Saturday vote. Polls showing that Perry was winning only about 4 percent of the vote no doubt prompted his decision.
Perry, ever the politician, tried to put a good face on his poor showing. He admitted that there was no "viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign," but suggested that his voluntary departure "provided the right path forward" for his party to nominate an ultra-conservative candidate to oppose President Barack Obama in November.
That's fancy rhetoric to curry favor with the GOP right wing whose sole goal is to nominate anyone other than Mitt Romney, the current front-runner. Perry's departure before Saturday's vote spares him the embarrassment of a lousy showing and allows him to tie his name to that of Gingrich, who for the moment is the darling of the GOP right wing. How self serving.
In truth, Perry was never a major player in South Carolina. His candidacy came off the rails long ago, done in by a series of gaffes -- he forgot how old you have to be to vote, the date of the November election, the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices and mixed up Iran and Iraq -- so egregious that even his most loyal supporters found it hard to keep a straight face.
Given his precipitous decline in support, Perry's decision to quit and his quick endorsement of Gingrich is more a face-saving, public relations gambit than anything else. It solidifies Perry's strict conservative credentials and makes him appear to be a team player. In truth, though, the endorsement probably will have no effect on Saturday's outcome.
Why would it? Even if all his supporters switched allegiance to Gingrich -- hardly a given -- the shift of four percent of voters means little. Rick Santorum, who remains in the race, appeals to the same base as Gingrich, and has an equal chance of winning over Perry stalwarts
Perry's decision to abandon the campaign may or may not make it easier for those determined to stop Romney's march towards nomination. It does, however, expose the fractures in a Republican Party that still seems far more interested in partisan and parochial issues than in providing sound policies and governance for the American people.