If Rick Perry leaves the Republican race, there will not be a candidate in the field who authentically represents smaller government. While many conservatives don’t mind activist government so long as the ends are conservative, the willful use of activist government for conservative ends leaves in place a government perfectly capable of activist liberal government when conservatives lose.The only way to fully turn the tide of big government is therefore to support someone who is willing to scale back government. Unfortunately, the only candidate with both an agenda to significantly cut government and a record of actually doing so is the flawed candidate from Texas with a campaign no one can be proud of.But can he win? Yes. And should he stay in? Absolutely. If Rick Perry leaves, conservatives who want Washington out of their lives will have fully ceded the field to other men, mostly conservative, who are not as committed to the idea of “making Washington as inconsequential in our lives as possible.”What would it take though to get voters to look at Perry again? I think the only way he can go forward is to have a full throated and honest reboot of his campaign. To do that, he must clean house with a full on purge of his political and communications staff.David Carney, who I know and like, and Joe Allbaugh, who I do not know but admire, must both go. Ray Sullivan must go. Mark Miner must go. I would suggest even Tony Fabrizo, who just about everyone internally at the Perry campaign, regardless of faction, blames as the chief instigator of the recent Politico story must go.Perry has to demonstrate he recognizes just how terrible his campaign is. And that means people at the top level need to go. A lot of the Politico story was deadly accurate. The Perry team initially treated his campaign as running for Governor of Texas. He was underprepared and ill suited for debates. His communications strategy was and is a mess.Look no further than Mark Miner, his spokesman today, being asked about Governor Perry’s tweet that he was in and, instead of saying “I’ll get back to you,” conveyed uncertainty. The headline went from “Perry Stays In” to “Perry’s Staff Has No Idea.”But it goes much deeper than that and I would submit none of us can treat a Perry reboot seriously unless he actually does reboot. It goes much deeper than people. People is policy and this is ultimately about the policies Perry will champion indicated first and foremost by his leadership abilities to stop the suck in his campaign.
Rick Perry has a reputation as a man who isn’t a genius, but has a knack for surrounding himself with really smart people, the overwhelming majority of whom are intrinsically conservative.But with the Presidential campaign, these smart people seemed out of their league. They were largely led by Dave Carney and Rob Johnson, both of whom I like tremendously. Things, however, did not work out as planned and Rick Perry brought in Joe Allbaugh who managed President Bush’s campaign.Unfortunately, but perhaps necessarily, Allbaugh created a shadow campaign team within the campaign and it became divided between the “Austin Team” and the “Shadow Team” with the Allbaugh led shadow team calling the shots and the Austin Team being resented. Carney left. Johnson went to Iowa. The Austin just is. And that is not a healthy dynamic.The campaign had a split personality, neither of which could effectively serve Rick Perry. It festered.Allbaugh is a good guy who many credit with turning the team around, but the situation has festered for too long. There are good people in the Austin team, many of whom are very close friends of mine. There are good people in the “shadow” team, many of whom are very close friends of mine. What neither team has had is strong leadership. Things have spun out of control. I do not have confidence in the leadership team and without a change there I do not know that Perry can remedy things. It also seems clear to me that his advertising in Iowa may have held him steady, but certainly didn’t distinguish him from the field. His messaging has been lackluster.As much as it may pain him to do so, Rick Perry needs to thank Joe Allbaugh and let him go home. He needs to thank Ray Sullivan and let him, Mark Miner, and Robert Black go back to Texas to serve on the Governor’s Team. Perry needs to find a new pollster too. He has some good staff in place who can lead a smaller, more nimble campaign team with a tight message, a couple of solid ads, and a focus on making this a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party — will be be a party of big spending or a party that devolves power back to the states and people.A firm, clean, and complete reboot of the Perry campaign shows that Perry is in charge and that he has the leadership skills to switch gears from failure.I think Rick Perry can reboot. I think he can start raising money again. I think he has the money to compete in South Carolina.But he has to sharpen his conservative-populist economic message, sell his biography as a farmer/veteran/job creator, and he has to fight like hell.The odds are long, but it is possible. Gingrich will destroy Romney, potentially hurting himself, and I do not believe Santorum will survive the vetting process. That leaves an opening for a genuinely repentant and rebooted Rick Perry to get one last look in South Carolina.