Rick Perry must have flipped through the schedule, saw another debate on the agenda for tonight, and just said “I can’t deal with talking in public again, let’s end this!” And so closes one of the most disastrous Presidential runs in modern history, up there with Phil Gramm, Rudy Giuliani and John Connally.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who parachuted into the 2012 Republican presidential contest on a surge of upbeat expectations, is expected to exit the contest Thursday, two days before a South Carolina primary in which he was trailing far behind the leaders.

Perry will hold a press conference in North Charleston at 11 a.m., when he’ll suspend his candidacy, according to multiple news accounts.

Perry will apparently also endorse Newt Gingrich at this event, part of a secret deal worked out over the past few days. But as Dave Weigel says, just Perry dropping out boosts Newt by winnowing out the not-Romney vote. Perry was only polling around 5-10% in South Carolina, but if all of that goes to Newt, that’s roughly how far behind Gingrich is in the latest round of polling, which shows him surging since Monday’s debate.

But there are two opposing forces that will collide tonight. On the one hand, there’s another debate where Gingrich can throw out red meat and whip up more support, and with only four candidates on stage, he’ll have a lot of face time to do that. On the other hand, Gingrich’s estranged second wife Marianne is scheduled to be on ABC’s Nightline tonight, and you can expect an explosive interview full of descriptions of infidelity, financial mismanagement and the like.

Will that hurt Gingrich? I don’t know that there can be anything new out there that hasn’t already been addressed. His life is a sideshow, and the details are largely pro forma. Anyway, Newt has played the redemption card pretty well, which always seems to work with fundamentalist conservatives, as long as the penitent one still preaches the gospel of low taxes and a strong defense.

There’s some question whether a Gingrich win in South Carolina would even matter to the overall race, anyway. Romney is way ahead in Florida, and even a Gingrich surge may not get him that close. And then the succeeding states are all places where Romney did very well in 2008, starting with Nevada and its significant Mormon population. So while a Gingrich victory may make Romney work a little harder, it is unlikely to change the outcome.

You’ll notice this post veered sharply away from Rick Perry. Because there’s nothing to say. He will return to Texas exposed as a complete buffoon and a punch line, and never will he darken the door of national politics again. The collapse began the moment he opened his mouth, and for that, a nation is grateful.