Texas’ Biggest Presidential Flameouts

Beto O'Rourke campaigns for Senate in 2018, otherwise known as the good old days.
Beto O'Rourke campaigns for Senate in 2018, otherwise known as the good old days. Melissa Hennings
click to enlarge Beto O'Rourke campaigns for Senate in 2018, otherwise known as the good old days. - MELISSA HENNINGS
Beto O'Rourke campaigns for Senate in 2018, otherwise known as the good old days.
Melissa Hennings
Texas, for all its grand political history, has had more than its share of bad candidates, ranging from the benign but deluded, like 2002 gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, to the not-so-benign but totally hopeless, like Craig James. Scattered among the political graves are several Texas politicians who got too big for their britches and decided they were fit, whether they had the résumé or not, to run for the highest office in the land.

This is the list Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro, both polling at around the margin of error, are trying desperately to avoid.

Without further ado, here are Texas politics' grandest presidential failures:

1. Rick Perry, 2012 edition: When the then-governor entered the 2012 race for the Republican nomination in August 2011, he was the odds-on favorite, polling at 29%, according to CNN, 12 points ahead of Mitt Romney, his closest rival. Perry's campaign only went downhill from there. Multiple disastrous debate performances, including the infamous "oops moment," torpedoed his campaign, leading Perry to drop out of the race by mid-January, polling somewhere in the mid-single digits. Perry would eventually blame his performance on complications from back surgery.
2. Rick Perry, 2016 edition: Despite having burned whatever national credibility he might have had in 2012, Perry inexplicably decided to run again four years later. He made a little noise, calling Donald Trump a "cancer on conservatism," before bowing out meekly in September 2015. He did manage to get back in Trump's good graces, however, and is now, somehow, head of the Energy Department.
3. Phil Gramm, 1996's record breaker: Texas Sen. Phil Gramm got into the 1996 GOP nominating contest before anyone else, raised what was then a single-event record of $4.1 million at a Dallas fundraising dinner, according to The New York Times, and eventually spent more than $21 million in less than a year of campaigning. None of it mattered. Gramm crashed out of the race in February 1996 after having his campaign death warrant signed by Pat Buchanan, who beat Gramm in the Louisiana caucuses, the first nominating caucus held that year. 4. John Connally, the man who did all that for one delegate: Connally ran for president in 1980 after serving as Texas governor from 1963 to 1969. Despite making the cover of Time and spending the then-tremendous amount of $11 million, Connally got out of the race after having won the support of exactly one delegate and endorsed Ronald Reagan.

At a press conference with the man who would be president, a reporter asked Connally if he thought Reagan was the best man for the top job.

"I think he's the second-best man I can think of," Connally said with a broad grin, according to The Washington Post 5. Ross Perot goes off the rails: It's hard to believe, given the recent hardening of America's two-party system, but Dallas billionaire Ross Perot, running as an independent candidate, actually led the presidential race for a couple of weeks during the spring of 1992. Before Bill Clinton won election in November, Perot would drop out of the race, get back in the race, blame his dropping out on a GOP plot to falsely out his daughter as a lesbian and host a series of homemade infomercials on national television. He ended up winning almost 19% of the vote but didn't come close to winning a state. 6. Ted Cruz, man, oh man: Not only did Ted Cruz lose to Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary, he also ended up campaigning for and supporting a man who implied both that Cruz's wife was ugly and that Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Cruz's second-place finish might not have stung as badly as Connally's or Gramm's no-shows, but video of him supporting the man he called a "pathological liar" will live forever.  
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young