Updated at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Days before he was to be relegated once again to a second-tier debate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday he was suspending his struggling presidential campaign. It makes him the first to bow out in the crowded Republican presidential nominating contest.
“When I gave my life to Christ, I said, ‘Your ways are greater than my ways. Your will superior to mine.’ Today I submit that his will remains a mystery, but some things have become clear,” Perry said, speaking to the conservative Eagle Forum conference in St. Louis. “That is why today I am suspending my campaign for the presidency of the United States.
Perry continued: “We have a tremendous field — the best in a generation — so I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, and as long as we listen to the grass roots, the cause of conservatism will be too. I share this news with no regrets. It has been a privilege and an honor to travel this country, to speak with the American people about their hopes and dreams, to see a sense of optimism prevalent despite a season of cynical politics.”
Since launching his second presidential bid in June, Perry struggled to move past the missteps of his disastrous 2012 bid. Once seen as the front-runner four years ago, Perry was sluggish on the campaign trail after back surgery. His stumbles were captured in a single “Oops” moment when he blanked on the three government agencies he would eliminate.
Four years later, a more energetic Perry tried to reintroduce himself to voters. With new black-frame glasses, he said he had studied up on policy and was more prepared. He tried to show he was more energetic and engaged when campaigning. And since stepping down as Texas’ longest-serving governor, he was able focus full time on his campaign instead of juggling his official responsibilities.
But the reboot — and re-brand — weren’t enough for Perry. He never gained traction in the polls and struggled to break through in a 17-candidate field of newer, flashier faces.
He also was unable to distinguish himself in the second-tier forum Aug. 6, one that took place hours before a prime-time debate, featuring the top 10 candidates in the polls. Instead, he was overshadowed by Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive.
Last month, in what appeared to portend what was to come, Perry stopped paying his campaign staff, as his fundraising dried up. While some stuck by him, taking no pay, others bolted for rival campaigns.
Speaking Friday, Perry did not exit without taking a few parting shots at GOP front-runner Donald Trump, with whom he has repeatedly clashed. Though he didn’t mention the billionaire real-estate mogul by name, his target was clear.
“The answer to a president nominated for soaring rhetoric and no record is not to nominate a candidate whose rhetoric speaks louder than his record,” Perry said. “It is not to replicate the Democrat model of selecting a president, falling for the cult of personality over durable life qualities.”
He added later, “It is time to elevate our debate from divisive name-calling, from sound bites without solutions, and start discussing how we will make the country better for all if a conservative is elected president.”
Perry is technically only suspending his presidential campaign, a distinction that could still leave the door open for him to change his mind and re-enter, though that’s unlikely. Now, he can still continue raising money to retire any debt.
Perry’s exit leaves only four candidates who will participate in CNN’s second-tier debate on Wednesday — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore did not poll high enough to make the cut.