Perry Decision Headlines St. Louis GOP Gathering

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rick Perry’s political career ended with a whimper, a remarkable if predictable fall for the longest-serving governor in Texas history and a leader many considered the Republican Party’s savior just four years ago.
History may judge it an end sealed back in 2011, when Perry froze on a debate stage and tried to recover with an embarrassed “oops.” Others may remember the former governor with the movie-star looks and resume to match as Donald Trump’s first political victim.
Perry all but declared war on the billionaire businessman in July, calling Trump “a cancer on conservatism” who could destroy the Republican Party. On Friday night, Trump’s campaign was soaring while Perry was pulling out of the race for the White House.
More than a dozen major Republican candidates remain in the 2016 field, yet Trump’s dominance is suffocating his rivals. In still-early polls, the real-estate mogul and realty TV star has more support that the once-top-tier trio of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio combined.
In second, by the way, is another political rookie: retired surgeon Ben Carson.
“There is no play in the playbook for where we are right now,” said John Jordan, a California winery owner and major Republican fundraiser. “Donors don’t know what to think. Nobody saw the Trump phenomenon coming. Probably a lot of Jeb donors wish they had their money back.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put it a different way on Twitter after Perry’s exit: “What does it say about GOP when a 3 & half term Gov w/ a successful record of creating jobs bows out as a reality star leads in the polls?”
Perry was more gracious as he surprised a gathering of social conservatives in St. Louis by announcing his departure.
“We have a tremendous field of candidates – probably the greatest group of men and women,” Perry said. “I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, as long as we listen to the grassroots, listen to that cause of conservatism. If we do that, then our party will be in good hands.”
Perry also made several sly references to Trump, offering a last warning of sorts to a GOP experiencing its most serious identity crisis in a generation. Trump may favor tax increases on the rich, once supported abortion rights, given money to Hillary Rodham Clinton and said kind things about government-run health care in other countries, but he’s become the GOP’s unquestioned presidential front-runner.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who took the stage in St. Louis after Perry, said Trump’s ability to command media attention puts other candidates at a distinct disadvantage.
“I think in many ways it doesn’t change the big picture,” Huckabee said of Perry’s exit, “but it does show that with this many candidates on the stage, it’s very, very difficult to get noticed.”

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