Rick Perry, Slightly Vindicated

Rick Perry, Slightly Vindicated
Governor Perry, center, speaks during a news conference at the Texas capitol on Jan. 9
Photograph by Deborah Cannon/Statesman via AP Photo

Almost as soon as Rick Perry bowed out of the Republican primaries last spring, he started making noise about running for president in 2016. That doesn’t guarantee he’ll run: One of the best ways for a politician to maintain power, visibility, and donors is to be thought of as a likely contender for the White House, whether or not one has any intention of actually running.

But Perry is an especially interesting case. He was a top-tier candidate who once led the polls, but whose fall from grace was so precipitous, and so thoroughly embarrassing, that many people simply assume he can never recover. The reason is that horrible “oops” moment during one of the GOP debates in which Perry, already a few steps slower than the rest of the pack, couldn’t recall all the government agencies he was vowing to close if elected president. As the old saying goes, “You can’t fix stupid.” And that’s the main knock against Perry in a Houston Chronicle piece previewing the new Texas legislative session and the chance Perry could use it to rehabilitate his image.

“On the one hand, Reagan, Bush, McCain, and Romney all lost on their first nomination try, and they came back to fight and win another day. The problem for Perry is that he crossed a line from contender to punch line,” University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala told the Chronicle. “My guess is that the window is closed for Perry.”

I don’t necessarily disagree. But it’s worth noting, which the article does not, that it wasn’t Perry’s “oops” moment that rendered him unacceptable to Republican primary voters. What doomed him was his comparatively enlightened stance on immigration and his willingness to defend the policy of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas schools. Not only was Perry willing to defend his position, he criticized those attacking him from the right—most prominently Mitt Romney—for being “hard hearted.” The drop in Perry’s support coincided with this fight.

A lot has changed in the year that followed. At least on paper, Perry is more in tune with the needs of the Republican Party post-2012 than any of his counterparts from the last primary. Right now, Republicans are, ostensibly, scrambling to figure out how to appeal to Hispanics and talk to them without sounding like imbeciles. Perry could teach them a thing or two. He’s also a committed devotee of the small-government, states’ rights, Tea Party worldview that’s still dominant within the GOP. (To the detriment of Texas, as noted in Bloomberg Businessweek.)

Is Perry positioned for a comeback? I doubt it. But if he runs, he’ll be more in synch with what I expect Republicans to be looking for in a nominee than most people credit him. And he’ll have had four years to study his flash cards and commit those government cuts to memory.

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