Rick Perry suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, ending one of the race's most curious, bizarre and entertaining candidacies. But flash back to September 2011 and nobody -- nobody -- would have predicted we'd see this day.
The Texas governor broke through the gates an immediate frontrunner, seemingly all but assured of the nomination. That Perry reached the threshold of irrelevancy within three months stands as a testament to the modern Republican voter's ability to drop candidates like oil-slicked anvils.
Political scientists vary widely as to what exactly led to Perry's downfall. Was it the infamous Oops moment? A seemingly inebriated speech in New Hampshire? Or could it be an aggregate of tragicomic debate performances and a record in Texas of being a moderate Republican?
All agreed, he was, ultimately, a bad candidate.
His candidacy has been defined by trying to rejuvenate his momentum, said University of Texas political science professor Bruce Buchanan.
Here, in all its excruciating glory, is a recap of the tumultuous rise and fall of Rick Perry:
Obama's 'Worst Nightmare'
Perry officially announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination on Aug. 13, 2011, unleashing a horde of evangelical Christians deifying a three-term governor touting a record of job growth and fiscal reform.
It's time to get America working again, Perry said.
Within days, he was in front of the Republican field, leading in polls by as many as 11 points. It began a streak that would carry him to six straight weeks as the leading Republican candidate -- at one point with an 19-point advantage within the field.
The good will carried over to the general populace, as the Texan had a lead over the president by Sept. 1, according to some polls. It gave credence to his earlier claims that he was Barack Obama's worst nightmare.
Politicos began wondering how could he lose. Perry was the longest-serving governor of a huge state that acts as a bullpen for the GOP's national stage. He came in touting job growth in a time of economic distress, and hosted the nation's biggest politically charged prayer rally in a football stadium. Conservative bona fides by the boatloads, and a brass set to match. But it was the cojones that began his precipitous fall.
For all the bluster that surrounded Perry, September and October became defining months, as a candidate that was once stoic, driven and passionate transformed into a loose-lipped novice, too green and unhinged for the national stage.
The patina began to wear, essentially once Perry opened his mouth. His poll numbers began to drop after a sustained attack on Social Security, calling it a Ponzi scheme and repeatedly lambasting the social safety net for retirees. Within weeks, on Sept. 25 he lost the top spot in the polls and never recovered.
About That Ranch...
Things became even dicier for Perry on Oct. 2, after it was revealed his favorite retreat, a hunting camp in West Texas, was once named N-----head, with the racial slur scrawled over a rock at its entrance.
The one consistent fact in the story is that the word on the rock was painted over and obscured many years ago, said Ray Sullivan, Perry's communication director.
A Defining 'Oops'
On the debate stage, Perry's worst enemy was... Rick Perry. The many misstatements, half-truths and mental mishaps wore away at an already floundering candidacy. He became a veritable gaffe machine. Perry said the Revolutionary War was fought in the 16th century. He called opponent Herman Cain brother, reviving the specter of that racist ranch name.
Then, on Nov. 9, came arguably the defining moment of Perry's candidacy. For 53 agonizing seconds, Perry fell victim to a brain freeze, unable to list which three federal agencies he'd eliminate. He made it to two, forgot the third, apologized and with a shrug said Oops. The scene resonated so resoundingly, it came to be synonymous with gaffe, with headlines touting other candidates' Oops Moments.
According to UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck, the poor debate performances helped push Perry's candidacy toward oblivion.
What we know about voters in the nominating process is they are weighing a candidates' viability in winning the nomination, but also their electability, she said. Those first couple of debate performances, it's a little like an information cascade about Perry. Ratings of viability go down, ratings of electability slowly go down. For Perry is wasn't so much a surge as it was a constant decline.
Maple Syrup Enthusiasm
Perry appeared unusually loose on Oct. 29 before a crowd of conservative voters in New Hampshire during a prototypical stump speech, which eventually went viral.
In the eight minute, 30 second clip, an unusually flamboyant Perry gesticulates and jokes, seeming anything but presidential.
This is such a cool state. I mean c'mon, 'Live free or die?' You know, you gotta love that, right? Perry said, alluding to New Hampshire's state motto. I come from a state where you know they had this little place called the Alamo and they declared 'Victory or death.' You know, we're kind of into those slogans, man. It's like, 'Live free or die;' 'Victory or death.' Bring it!
By the time it was over, polls had him a distant second behind Mitt Romney.
Quite often, the minutiae of running a campaign lead to beaucoup votes, and according to Hunter College political science professor Jamie Chandler, Perry ran his campaign like a complete novice.
Perry certainly showed a lot of promise, but on a national stage he is really green, he said. He didn't have the strategy to take his campaign forward. He made some big tactical errors not only in how he performed in his debates, but also how he built his campaign organization.
The Texas governor was notorious for not doing his homework before debates and stumping.
To me the problem was he didn't realize what he was up against and he was undisciplined, Buchanan said. He could have been far better ready.
Actually, A Moderate
Perry's record as a Texas conservative came under scrutiny, and rightfully so. Turns out, according to Vavreck, Rick Perry isn't all right-wing bluster.
It's a little bit of a combination of his more moderate policy on things like education and his debate performances, she said, noting his policy of making the HPV vaccine mandatory for schoolgirls in Texas, as well as allowing the children of illegal immigrants to have in-state tuition rates at Texas' colleges and universities.
You can't just have these positions and go out there and expect the party to move to your positions, she said. Candidates don't really reinvent themselves like that.
A once-dynamic Perry candidacy limped into the Iowa caucuses, and ended the night a distant fifth, behind Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich. By most accounts, Perry's candidacy was on life support. Some at that time called it over. Perry promised to reassess his campaign. A sound trouncing in New Hampshire followed, but he had already skipped that primary to focus on South Carolina.
But the Perry resurgence never occurred. Soon, prominent Republicans asked him to back out. With less than 48 hours until the primary he gave in.
As a Texan, I've never shied away from a fight, he said. I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat.