When former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman exited the GOP presidential primary earlier this month, left-leaning columnists were bereft. Huntsman, after all, was the Republican most respected by non-Republicans. In December, New York Times number-crunching blogger Nate Silver laid out the case for "Jon Huntsman's Path to Victory." It turns out that path sustained itself through one state, New Hampshire, where he came in third. When he pulled out, Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a fond farewell, in which -- sometimes it's hard to let go -- he floated the possibility of a 2016 run. The Atlantic's James Fallow also mourned the defeat of a truly swell Republican.
Expect few, if any, such dirges for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry, you see, never seemed embarrassed to be seen with other conservatives. When Perry entered the race in August, he seemed to present the most formidable challenge to Mitt Romney. The longest-standing governor of a job-rich state who had been elected as a state legislator, agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor, Perry had years of political experience, years of campaign vetting and years of fundraising prowess.
Unlike Romney, who went to Stanford and Harvard, the man from Paint Creek is an Air Force veteran who grew up poor and graduated from Texas A&M University. Unlike Huntsman, Perry never acted as if he were perhaps a little too precious for GOP politics. As for appealing to voters outside the GOP tent -- no problem there. Perry started his political career as a Democrat.
Yet Perry's campaign never made it out of the box. His team spent heavily in Iowa, but he came in fifth. Perry seemed to drop out of the race, only to jump back in. Then on Thursday, Perry officially withdrew and threw his support behind the undeserving Newt Gingrich.
"I think he left his campaign the way he came in, bumbling and stumbling," quipped Democratic political consultant Roger Salazar, who couldn't believe that Perry endorsed Gingrich on the same day ex-wife Marianne announced to the media that Gingrich had told her in 1999 that he wanted an "open marriage" or a divorce.
The GOP debates did in Perry. From his first debate in September at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Perry stumbled and sputtered.