Perry was at the top of his game as governor when he decided to throw himself into the 2012 presidential race. He entered the contest in August 2011, quickly raised millions and immediately shot to the top of the polls. But soon a series of missteps and gaffes began to drag down his once promising candidacy.
Then on Nov. 9, 2011, during a nationally televised debate in Michigan, Perry entered the political blooper hall of fame when he couldn’t remember the third of three federal departments he wanted to shut down if elected president.
“I would do away with the Education, the, uh, Commerce, and, let's see," Perry said toward the end of 53 seconds of campaign horror. “I can't. The third one I can't. Sorry. Oops.” (For the record, it was the Department of Energy.)
The embarrassment came as Perry’s campaign was struggling to revive a candidacy that had already become the stuff of late-night comedy routines. After the oops moment, he never recovered. Perry came in fifth in first-test Iowa, did not compete in New Hampshire and then withdrew before the South Carolina GOP primary — a southern state that had held promise for him — in January of last year.
Perry, who jumped into the race with almost no advance preparation, later pointed to his sudden entry in the contest and the health fallout from his July 2011 back surgery as major reasons why his candidacy faltered.
He’ll have a lot more time to prepare if he runs again as many expect, and analysts see a tough but not impossible road ahead for Perry should he get into the 2016 race.
Jim Henson, a Tribune pollster and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said Perry has already made a first impression, and what voters saw was a gaffe-prone, shoot-from-the-hip Texan. Now the first order of business is dialing that back.
“The first task is not to establish an image, it’s to reset one,” Henson said. “That presents difficult, if not insurmountable problems.”