NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—The schedule should have been a giveaway. Originally, Rick Perry was going to spend the last Wednesday before the South Carolina primary on a barnstorming tour of the ultraconservative Piedmont. He’d talk at a pizza place, then meet with Bob Jones University students, then rap with voters in the too-quaint-to-believe town of Greer, then talk about the “personhood” rights of fetuses in Greenville.
It was not to be. For once, I remembered to check the freshest version of the candidate’s schedule, and saw that he’d moved the Greer tour up and made it his only event before the “personhood” one. This allowed me to race up the highway toward the Perry campaign, and to escape the fate of the hacks who camped out at Bob Jones only to learn that the governor wasn’t coming. (This should have been a giveaway, too—a presidential candidate going to Bob Jones University and the media barely caring.)
When I arrived, Perry was already inside the Acme General Store, in full-on retail campaign mode. Some of his staffers were wearing blue “PERRY: PRESIDENT” fleeces; he was wearing one with “GOVERNOR” below the campaign logo, and walking in comfortable ostrich-skin shoes. With his right hand he held a plastic cup of coffee. With his left, he pointed out wine bottles to the people with the worst jobs in campaign reporting—“embeds” assigned to point cameras at candidates whenever they’re out in the open and follow them from stop to stop like jilted Justin Bieber stalkers.
“Which one do you like?” Perry asked one of the embeds.
“I like the pinot noir,” she said. “What do you drink?”
“Um, I don’t drink much,” said Perry. “But if I were [getting one], it would be this one. The chardonnay.”
Another embed, trying to do something with the frozen moment, asked Perry to react to the Obama administration’s decision to put off the Keystone XL pipeline. Perry looked dully into the lens.
“Uh, it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “But it’s, uh, again, the president’s focused more on the next election than on the next generation. Getting this country, uh, dependent on, uh, foreign sources of crude, and on countries that are not our friends is, uh, really problematic. So this Canadian oil, uh, there’s a possibility we could lose it to China, uh, with that decision. So I hope Americans will really become unhinged with that decision, because it is a really bad decision for our country, for energy independence, and, uh, sends a horrible message at a time that we’re headed, uh, to $4 to $5 oil—sorry, $4 to $5 gasoline, uh, to have a neighbor who’s willing to sell us crude that is, uh, available.”
The embed has done his job; a somewhat coherent piece of breaking news was in the can. The governor moved out of the shop, tousling the curly hair of a young boy, Jameson Welchel, whose mother had brought him in to play with Legos. “You look like my boy when he was about your age,” said Perry. He beckoned for his son, Griffin, who in recent weeks had been writing funny, unvarnished tweets about the campaign. “This is my boy. He had tight”—Perry held up his hands to mime a hairstyle—“like that, and he was cotton-headed.”
The governor headed out to his next stop, and Griffin stuck around to talk to Duane Kelly, an investor in the store. I asked him what he thought of the drum-drum-drum of talk radio telling his dad to quit the race.
“Look, we don’t pay attention to talking heads,” said Griffin. “Our job is to listen to the people, and to listen to the advisers we have around. There’s a reason those people are paid to talk and my dad is paid to do what he does.”
There was a time when his dad paid more attention. Back on Aug. 13, 2011, he announced his campaign for president at a hotel named for the great Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion—the spot where the blog RedState was holding a conference. He stiffed Iowa (that’s how the locals saw it, anyway) while declaring himself the candidate of the right-wing blogerati.