NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina—Texas Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman Ray Sullivan grew "curious" last night when his candidate became introspective on the short flight from Greenville, S.C. to Charleston, the first hint that Perry would ultimately quit the race.
"I was asking about how we were gonna handle Saturday night, and he said 'I know how I feel — I got it taken care of,'" Sullivan recounted. "Do you need help with a speech — 'No, I'm good,' a response that gets people in my position curious."
Sullivan explained Perry's decision as an "entirely personal and family one," with aides out of the loop until they visited a Wendy's in Charleston with the governor at 8:30 p.m. last night.
Over hamburgers, Sullivan said Perry informed his aides that he'd made his decision — he'd be quitting the race today.
Perry explained today that he came to the conclusion that there was "no viable path to victory...in 2012."
While undoubtedly true, given his sagging poll numbers, aides — and Perry himself — are looking at another run in 2016 or 2020.
Sullivan recounted the long list of failed candidates who went on to become nominees or even presidents in later years: Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and John McCain.
Sullivan was asked if Perry will run for re-election. "That is certainly a strong option, as is maybe doing this again in four years — if the President wins," he replied. "Keep in mind that almost all of our nominees over the last 50 years have been on their second attempt at the White House. Republican voters tend to like the experienced candidates that they've seen for a long time. I would not rule that out."
Republican media strategist Alex Castellanos told BuzzFeed that Perry had little choice but to get out before South Carolina Republicans cast their ballots if he ever wants to run again.
"He'll need to do a hell of a job campaigning for Republicans around the country if he wants a ticket to the dance in 2016 or 2020," he added. "Perry didn't just fail to catch fire or disagree with voters on issues. The question will be, 'Did he irreparably harm himself, by creating the impression that he doesn't have the intellect and capacity for the job.' That's going to be a tough problem for Perry to fix."
One reporter noted to Sullivan that he is using a the new Twitter hashtag "perry2014" for his reelection effort, eliciting a laugh from the spokesman. "And put '16 in there too," he said.