Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign is best remembered for his disparaging comments about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and debate performances that even he rated as subpar.
As he announced yesterday that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term next year, the longest-serving U.S. governor hinted he may be looking for political redemption in the national arena.
“I will also pray and reflect and work to determine my own future path,” he told a gathering of supporters in San Antonio, adding that he’d announce his plans in “due time.”
Perry’s move coincides with a second special session of the Texas legislature that he called in part to reconsider abortion limits that lawmakers failed to pass last month. His efforts on the issue are being closely watched because they may play well with core Republican voters in states such as Iowa and South Carolina, the focus of early presidential contests.
Perry, 63, has said in recent months he hasn’t ruled out another White House campaign. Yet given his poor past performance, such a bid would test a Republican Party tradition of backing those who have run before. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney all won nominations after failed previous efforts.
“It would be a very high mountain for him to climb,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines lawyer and Republican activist who has long followed the Iowa caucuses that traditionally lead off state nomination contests. “People would wonder whether they want to nominate someone who doesn’t perform well.”
Gross, who ran Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign in Iowa, called Perry’s 2012 bid a “real dud,” and said expectations for any second effort would be “near zero because of his inauspicious performance last time.”
Low expectations would stand in contrast to the aura around Perry when he entered the crowded Republican primary field in August 2011.
Perry quickly became a front-runner, surging ahead of Romney in polls as he sold himself as someone who had never lost an election in almost three decades of campaigning and touted his strong fundraising record. His standing in the polls plummeted just as quickly after poor debate performances.
Perhaps his worst moment occurred during a November 2011 debate in suburban Detroit, when he couldn’t remember the name of the third government agency he had pledged to eliminate as president.
He named two, the Commerce and Education departments, and then acknowledged he couldn’t remember the third. “I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said.
“I’m glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there,” Perry later told reporters.
Just days after he had entered the race, Perry sparked controversy while campaigning in Iowa when he said things could get “ugly” for Bernanke in Texas if he tried additional, “almost treasonous,” monetary stimulus to boost the economy before the presidential election. Such swagger raised questions about whether his rhetoric undercut his message.
In an April interview, Perry said he planned to make a decision about 2016 by the end of this year.
“If you’re going to run for president, you’ve got to start at least two years early -- at least,” he said during a trip to Chicago to try to woo Illinois businesses to his state. “You can’t parachute in.”
Starting late in the 2012 race offered him no margin for error, Perry said. “We could have won, but we had to do everything perfect,” he said. “Needless to say, we didn’t do everything perfect.”
Perry also pointed to the back surgery he had shortly before announcing his presidential bid as hampering his effort.
“If you’re going to run for the presidency,” he said, “I highly recommend you don’t have major back surgery six weeks before.”
Elected lieutenant governor in 1998, Perry took over as Texas’s chief executive in December 2000, when Republican George W. Bush left the post to become president. Perry was elected to a full term as governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006 and 2010.
Bush, in his 2000 presidential campaign, had extolled his working relationship as governor with Democratic lawmakers. With Republicans capturing control of both of the state legislature’s chambers in the 2002 elections and retaining their majorities, Perry as governor rarely has negotiated with Democrats.
“Perry could just control Texas politics by controlling the Republican Party,” said James Riddlesperger, who teaches politics at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “That’s his legacy.”
With his exit from the governor’s mansion in Austin in early 2015, Perry will leave behind a record that includes cutting taxes and creating jobs. He stressed his economic record in his presidential campaign, and did again in remarks yesterday. Texas since 2000 has added 1.6 million jobs, 30 percent of the U.S. total, Perry said.
He also emphasized his commitment to laws to protect the unborn and other social issues that appeal to some Republicans. “We’ve protected the sanctity of marriage,” he said. “We’ve respected the values that have made Texas the greatest state in the greatest nation.”
Leaving the governor’s office gives Perry a chance to prepare a stronger presidential bid in 2016, Ray Sullivan, his former chief of staff and communications director, told reporters yesterday after Perry’s speech.
“He learned a lot last time, and one of the lessons was get in early,” Sullivan said.
Perry’s push for Texas to adopt additional abortion restrictions may burnish his national appeal with key blocs of Republican voters.
“Iowans respect what is going on in Texas a great deal,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, an Iowa-based coalition that opposes abortion rights and gay marriage. “They are aware of it already or they could be made aware of it quickly and they would appreciate that type of leadership.”
Vander Plaats said he “totally anticipates” that Perry will run for president and that he thinks Republican activists would give him a second chance because they know he was “recovering from back surgery and on a powerful pain drug” during his 2012 presidential campaign.
“I believe there is an opening here and he has a great story to tell,” he said. “They would be very open to Rick Perry and they would give him a fair shot.”
The abortion limits that Perry backs may cause most providers in Texas to close by forcing their clinics to meet surgical-center guidelines. State Senator Wendy Davis, who attracted national attention by trying to block the measure by speaking for more than 11 hours during a filibuster last month, may run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott may seek the Republican nomination for governor of the country’s second-most-populous state. Abbott, who has been attorney general since 2002, has raised $18 million to finance a run.