Rick Perry returned to the scene of his greatest triumph—the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference—with a rousing speech defending conservatism and attacking Barack Obama. It was at CPAC last year that Perry burst upon the national stage and shot to the top of the polls for the GOP presidential nomination. This year was a different story. He entered to the strains of “God Bless Texas” and then rambled a bit about his home state. “I come from what people might think is a foreign country. Our legislators come in, pass laws, then go home and live under the laws they pass.” Not exactly inspirational stuff. A report by Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News on Perry’s speech suggested that time may have passed Perry by; it referred to “hundreds of empty seats” and “a far lighter crowd than the one that packed the house earlier for Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.”

Perry’s speech was pretty rambling. “I’m honored to be here with men and women who are foot soldiers in the revolution that started some 31 years ago by the election of a president whose birth we celebrated this week,” he began. “Of course, I’m talking about Ronald Reagan. You know, President Reagan, he must be staring down from heaven and thinking that reincarnation may indeed be possible, when he looks and somehow Jimmy Carter’s failed presidency could reappear in the form of Barack Obama.” Perry then assailed Obama for “dangerously releasing criminals onto our streets to make a political point.” He continued, “When you have a federally-sponsored jailbreak—and don’t get confused, that’s exactly what that is—when you’ve had a federally-sponsored jailbreak, you’ve crossed the line from politics of spin to politics as a craven form of cynicism.”

The key part of Perry’s speech was a defense of conservatism as a viable political philosophy: “The popular media narrative,” he said, “is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections.” “That’s what they think. That’s what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.” This is the argument that conservatives have made for many election cycles now, that the conservative movement has been betrayed by the GOP establishment, which has prevented the party from nominating true conservatives. This begs the question of who gets to define who is, and who is not, a true conservative.

At the end of his speech, Perry spoke about his beloved alma mater, Texas A&M. “We have a saying about defeat at Texas A&M,” he said. “Aggies never lose. We just run out of time.” It was pretty apt, because that is what has happened to Rick Perry.