Why would Rick Perry stay in the race? To those who watched a candidate who seemed to have everything going for him—long-time, big-state governor with a record he could tout, money, attractiveness, appeal to the base, never lost an election—fall apart in the most embarrassing, slow-motion way, through serial debate flops and dumb statements, and then flop in Iowa, it may seem puzzling, stubborn, impulsive, and quixotic.
Here is another possible explanation. As I noted in an earlier post, the choice of a not-Mitt Romney conservative alternative went through several stages of infatuation and disappointment, from Bachmann through Cain, then Perry and Gingrich. All emerged, went through tougher scrutiny, and faltered. Santorum was the last one standing, and so far has escaped any serious look at his plans, his past record (remember the K Street Project?), and his history of highly charged statements (remember “man on dog?”). There is a reasonable chance, over the next two weeks, that the press and his opponents will subject Santorum to the same scrutiny that caused others to stumble—and that he will, leaving yet another vacuum in the battle to choose a not-Mitt. Gingrich will still be around, but his path, as he goes after Romney with a viciousness parallel to what Romney’s cohorts did to Newt—but lacking the super PAC resources, Gingrich will have to do it directly—is a tough one. So if Perry just hangs around, maybe he can pick up the not-Mitt torch if it is dropped by Santorum. Not likely, to be sure. But not entirely implausible, given the wacky horse race so far.