Maybe next time.

Photographer: Michael B. Thomas

Rick Perry's Exit Shows the System Is Working

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Sure, Rick Perry was only one of 17  -- now 16 -- Republican presidential hopefuls. But his announcement on Friday that he would drop out of the race was important news.

It’s a sign winnowing still works in presidential-nomination contests, even in the new age of almost non-existent campaign-finance limitations. By all accounts, Perry’s super-PACs still had cash, even though his official campaign didn’t. But it wasn’t enough to keep him going.

A big part of the system we’ve known since the 1980s  involves attrition: Many candidates run for president, and one by one the more marginal ones leave when they no longer have a realistic chance of winning.  Perry's exit now is good evidence that other losing candidates will drop out in the future -- super-PAC money notwithstanding.

Readers are reminding me that earlier this week I said Perry had “a better chance of winning the nomination” than Donald Trump did. I’m going to defend that one, even though Perry obviously isn’t going to be the nominee. In fact, I said in the same piece that Perry “probably won’t survive the month as an active Republican presidential candidate.”

I’ll happily fess up when I turn out to be wrong about something. But in Trump's case, I won't be. Or at the least he (or Ben Carson, or one of the others I don’t consider viable) will have to come close to the nomination for my prediction to count as wrong.

One more note about Perry. I wonder how much the (apparently bogus) indictment he has been under hurt him. Republicans have several solid candidates to choose from in this cycle. Why risk having a nominee on trial during the campaign?

No one has ever come close to winning a nomination while indicted, and no one has ever overcome another obstacle the former Texas governor was facing: Winning a presidential nomination after entering the previous cycle as a front-runner, as he did in 2012, and then falling flat on his face.

Winnowing works.

  1. There was significant winnowing before the announcement stage in 2016: Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Rob Portman, Bob Ehrlich and John Bolton all did candidate-like things for a while and then dropped out.

  2. I expected at least one significant candidate  -- Perry, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie or Rick Santorum -- to drop out “at some point this summer.” By some definitions of summer … bingo!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net