Paul Begala to Rick Perry: Adios, Mofo

Rick Perry appealed to the darkest impulses of the right—and wasted a phenomenal amount of money.

Jonathan Gibby / Getty Images

Let us not allow Rick Perry to exit stage right—far right—without a final word or two. What can be said about a man who burst onto the national scene by toying with secession, as if 600,000 dead in the Civil War weren’t enough?

Rick Perry appealed to the darkest angels of our nature. In his final debate appearance, standing in the metaphorical shadow of Fort Sumter, he said the state of South Carolina “is at war” with the federal government—and he said it with approval. Perry called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and “a monstrous lie.” He attacked the constitutionality of Medicare. He openly and dishonestly called our president a socialist. He said he would reinvade Iraq. He almost certainly executed an innocent man.

And for a time he was in first place among Republican presidential candidates.

We will, of course, remember Perry more for his spectacular stupidity than for his open desire to roll back the clock to 1861. Perry is a dope, and now all the world knows it. If he lives to be 100 he will be remembered for his “Oops” moment—when he couldn’t recall the three government agencies he wanted to abolish. To be sure, even the smartest of people can have a brain freeze, but Perry’s cerebrum has been on dry ice for decades.

The pride of Texas A&M can now slink back home, defeated and disgraced, where he can try to explain to the lobbyists and billionaires who funded his campaign how he squandered a huge fortune and blew a big lead. In the most modestly gifted field in memory, Perry stood out. His incoherent debate performances, his weird, rambling, giddy speech in New Hampshire, his embarrassingly low vote totals, will define him for the rest of his career.

He earned the support of just 14,323 voters—a good turnout for a Texas high-school football game, but piss poor for a presidential campaign rolling in dough. The final reports aren’t in—and the spending is likely to be much higher—but a quick assessment of the amount of money Perry’s campaign and the pro-Perry super PAC spent comes out to $21.16 million. Again, that total will rise dramatically, but right now it looks like Team Perry spent at least $1,477 per vote. He could have given each of his voters a thousand dollars and saved money.

Of course, some will blame it on Texas. And my beloved Lone Star State is the presidential Hall of Shame. John Connally and Phil Gramm ran presidential campaigns that spent as recklessly as Perry, with similarly disastrous results. And George W. Bush ran a great campaign—and went on to be the worst president in a century. I don’t know what it is, and I can’t explain it. Perhaps Perry will cool the presidential dreams of the next good-looking airhead to rise in the Lone Star State. If so, he will have accomplished something lasting after all.

And so we bid Rick Perry farewell. But not with the socialist French phrase “Adieu.” Instead, we use the pidgin Spanish Perry himself used to say goodbye to a group of journalists in 2005: “Adios, mofo.”