In a late-September session in Orlando, Fla., Perry drew the wrath of tea party conservatives. Romney hit Perry for signing the 2001 Texas DREAM Act, which allows illegal immigrant students to pay reduced in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Perry shot back, "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart."
It was not a politic way to make his point. Perry later apologized because he had insulted the GOP base in a gratuitous manner. (In similar fashion, Huntsman implied Republicans were stupid for not following scientists on global warming. Then Huntsman kept using the same ill-considered language.) It's too bad because Perry had a solid argument for supporting the tuition measure: It's wrong to punish young people who work hard in school for decisions their parents made.
And it's sad that Perry owned the better position but that Romney won that round. It's ironic that while so many East Coast opinionators miss Huntsman, they ignore that Perry was the governor who took heat for signing an executive order mandating that middle-school girls be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV.
In his bid to play to conservative caucus voters, Perry seemed to forget his main attraction -- what PolitiFact described as "phenomenal job growth over most of the time Perry has been governor." In what seemed a desperate move, his campaign tried to gin up support by flogging bygone culture wars. In a December TV spot, Perry lamented, "There's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." It didn't work.
Jon Fleischman, founder of the conservative website FlashReport, isn't laughing. "There is no doubt in my mind that of all the Republicans running," Fleischman told me, Perry "would have made the best president. He has the right mix of character, conviction, judgment, philosophy and demeanor."
Fleischman likened Perry to former President Ronald Reagan in their shared sense of humility. "Neither the genius nor the plutocrat have humility as a strong suit," Fleischman said of Gingrich and Romney.
Well, this is a campaign, not a coronation. The Republican who wants to take on President Barack Obama has to perform, has to excel, has to be electable in November -- and has to win states during the GOP primary.
Perry didn't make the cut. He had won every election in which he ran from 1984 until this year, but he never won a debate.
"Oops," you might joke. But it's not that funny.