Rick Perry Is Not Quite Transcending the 'Oops'

He says he's healthier and better prepared than he was in 2012—but on the stump and in interviews, he still tends to ramble.

Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during the inaugural Roast and Ride in Boone, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, June 6, 2015.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

It was clearly a slip of the tongue when former Texas Governor Rick Perry called the Charleston church shootings an “accident” rather than an “incident” in an interview last week. But the same brief, friendly interview, with the conservative outlet Newsmax TV, shows the ways in which Perry 2.0 still suffers from the same shortcomings that turned him from front-runner to punchline during his 2012 presidential run.

During that first campaign, he never recovered from the debate in which he couldn’t remember the third government agency he wanted to do away with: “Oops,” he said, and his audience cringed. Now he’s back on the trail, healthier and better prepared, he says, in glasses that suggest he's done his homework. Yet he still frequently wanders off-topic, drops a trail of “uh's” and “um's” in almost every sentence, and doesn’t seem to know what he wants to say.

Some of his outings have been crisp, including a Conservative Political Action Conference speech in February and his Saturday appearance at a Faith & Freedom event where he focused on his anti-abortion record. Without a teleprompter, however, Perry, 65, often seems lost. And while anyone can misspeak, the longest-serving governor in Texas history does so with some regularity. It’s fortunate for him that reporters don’t often have room in their stories to quote candidate speeches or interviews at length, or the inclination to point out every deviation from coherence. But his verbal slips—many of which would ordinarily be edited out—are reproduced here in order to present an accurate picture of his extemporaneous verbal style.

During a Lincoln Day speech in Iowa in May, as Perry was arguing that lowering the corporate tax rate would without any question boost wages, he inserted extra “r’s” into certain words, saying “togrether” instead of “together” and “crost” instead of “cost.”

'Oops,' He Did It Again: Can Rick Perry Survive This One?

“I mean, any ec—any accountant worth their salt will tell you that when you lower that corporate tax rate by 10 percent you’re going to see a raising of 5 or 10 percent of wages. Everyone knows, every blue-collar worker in America ought to be standing up and saying ‘I’m votin’ for the Republicans because they’re going to raise my wages.’ Every one of ‘em. You couple those two things togrether, the driving down of electricity costs because we’re using North American energy—and frankly I’d a whole lot rather count on the Canadians and the Mexicans than the Venezuelans or some mullah from some Middle Eastern country for our energy. Think about that, North American energy lowering the crost of electricity in this country!”

At a Faith & Freedom event in Waukee, Iowa in April, he rambled all over the ranch even while telling his own life story: “I feel like I’m coming home when I come to Iowa because the men and women, the values that are that are here, and I went to a really small rural school. Paint Creek, well, there was a school out there on the farm to market road and then there was a Baptist church on one end of the school grounds and there was a Methodist church on the other end, your choice; if you weren’t one of those you were out of luck. And anyway, it was a little small school—we had about 115 kids, grades 1 through 12. Oh, I always, I always mess that up; I like to tell people I graduated in the top 10 in my graduating class and then somebody always asks me how many and I have to ‘fess up and say it was 13 so. But anyway, I always wanted to be a veteranarian, went off at Texas A&M, and um, about two years into that—adventure—organic chemistry made a pilot out of me…I, I um, volunteered to join the United States Air Force and and became a pilot and and flew, but Paint Creek, that little place I grew up, an incredible, I mean I’m so blessed to have grown up there, I mean I grew up in a house that didn’t have running water until we were you know 6 or 7 years old, that time period, and lived out at the—16 miles from the closest place that had a post office. I mean, really rural upbringing, and but we weren’t poor, I mean we were we were rich, I mean, I had all this land to you know run and play on with my dogs and horses, and it was awesome.”

In a recent appearance on the CBS Sunday show Face the Nation, he seemed to be arguing with himself over whether regulating Wall Street was a problem or a solution: “We’re fed up by seeing Wall Street get treated specially,” he told host John Dickerson, “and you can’t even get a loan from your community bank because of Dodd-Frank banking regulations. All of that has to change, John.”

“What are you going to do about Wall Street, then?” Dickerson asked.

“Well, regulate ‘em. I mean, regulate ‘em; make sure that doesn’t happen. If they make bad decisions, let them live with those bad decisions; don’t bail them out.”

“Isn’t that what Dodd-Frank is, regulations?’’ Dickerson persisted. “You were just saying that was bad.”

“Dodd-Frank is killing—Dodd-Frank is killing the community banks, overregulation in that sense. There needs to be some wisdom. My home state, one of the things that we were successful with was finding that balance between protecting the citizens and allowing the freedom for folks to grow, to be able to get loans, to be able do the things that really matter. Dodd-Frank just codifies into place these regulations.”

At the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Washington on Saturday morning, he didn’t stumble or mumble as he told the crowd that the Charleston shooting was “an absolute heinous hate crime”—against Christians: “I think we all come here today with heavy hearts for those individuals in Charleston—those Charleston Christians—who were gunned down in an absolute heinous hate crime inside of their place of worship. That deranged individual didn't just take lives of black Americans—he gunned down nine children of God.”

“There is something more basic to our humanity than the color of our skin, our ethnic heritage, our nationality. It's that we're all made in the image of a loving God, and we cannot let hatred and violence break the ties that bind us together…May justice be served in memory of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

After his speech, though, he sent mixed signals about the wisdom of debating gun laws in the wake of the tragedy: “I think it is healthy for us as a nation to have conversations and defend our positions, whatever they may be,” he told reporters, but then added, “I do have an issue that the knee-jerk from the left is always, 'We're going to take people's guns away from them,' when in fact there may be a host of contributing factors here.”

Last Friday, his Newsmax interviewer invited him to respond to President Barack Obama’s statement that “we don’t have all the facts” on the shooting, “but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” Was the president exploiting a tragedy by raising the issue of better background checks?

Perry said yes, but then seemed to lose his train of thought:

“Well, that’s always the, the knee-jerk reaction, is that, uh, if we can just take the guns out of the hands of everyone, uh, in this country, these types of things won’t happen again. Um, as long as evil and cowardice is alive in the world, and I suggest it has been and it will be, uh, there will be people who have, for whatever reason, again, we don’t know, as the president said we don’t have all the facts, and I’m not ready to, uh, to point to any particular policy, uh, but I know that we need to be working to bring people together in this country, uh, it’s one of the reasons that we work so hard in the state of Texas to create an environment where you can get an education. Texas now has the second-highest, uh, overall high school graduation rate in America. If you’re African-American in America and you live in Texas, you live in the state that has the number-one high school graduation rate...And that’s where I would like to see the next president of the United States really focused on, bringing this country together, uh, allowing those states to come up with programs to improve education opportunities.”

OK, said his interviewer, then steered the discussion back to Obama: “But I do want to ask, did he go too quickly to the microphone and blame guns?”

“This is the M.O. of this administration,” Perry answered, that “any time there is a accident like this, um, you know, um, I have, you know, the president is clear, he doesn’t like for Americans to have guns, so he uses every opportunity, this being another one, uh, to basically go parrot that message.”

To the next question, which was whether the shooting should be seen as an act of terror, Perry also marched off towards parts unknown: “Well, I, I don’t know,” he said, “but I think the facts, once we get them, um, there were more people than that killed in Paris. Uh, this, this this was a crime of hate, uh, we know that. Uh, and also I think there is a really issue to be talked about it seems to me, again without having all the details about this one that these individuals have been medicated. And there may be a real issue in this country from the standpoint of these drugs and how uh, they’re used. I know for a fact, uh, being a substantial supporter of our military and our veterans, uh, that the Veterans Administration for instance is handing out these opioids in massive amounts, and then people question well why can’t these young uh, individuals get work, or why are they, why is the suicide rate so high. So there, there are a lot of issues underlying this that we as a country need to have a conversation about rather than just the re, the knee-jerk reaction of saying if we can just take all the guns away, this won't happen.”

Both during his first and current presidential runs, Perry has made the point that he knows he isn’t going to make anybody forget Cicero—and that there is more to being president than a smooth public speaking style, anyway.

Also on Bloomberg Politics: The Definitive Rick Perry Scouting Report, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

During a 12-hour campaign day he spent with the Huffington Post’s Scott Conroy in April, he was asked what he learned last time out, and said this:

“What I learned in 2011 and 2012? Very instructive for me; and you better be healthy and you better be prepared because this is a marathon. I wasn’t healthy, had major back surgery six weeks before I announced and I performed at a very very, uh, low level of, of, of, of ability.”

Conroy gave him points for effort this time out: “On this particular day in April, his stump speech was at times unfocused, the crowds that greeted him small and lethargic—and yet it didn’t take much to see that he is already far better prepared than he was when he parachuted into the last race, seemingly on a whim, in August 2011.”

And Perry himself suggested that experience trumps oratory, or ought to: “I think in an Iowa, in a New Hampshire, in a South Carolina,’’ he told Conroy, “it works really well to just you know, go in—they want to be educated, they want to be entertained, I mean they don’t want to hear some boring guy. You know, Marco and Ted and Rand are, they are really, really, good public speakers; I mean, heck, I like to go listen to them. But at the end of the day, I do think this issue of executive leadership is going to have pretty substantial sway.”

On Fox News Sunday yesterday, he told Chris Wallace that after several years of studying the issues more seriously than he had in the run-up to his first race, “I feel very comfortable now sitting on the stage that I can have those conversations and uh, regurgitate that information that I know and that I've uh, absorbed, in a way that the American people are going to see a very different candidate.”

Perry has, it's true, changed some minds about his abilities this time around, but the question is whether he'll change them enough. After his speech in Washington on Saturday, I found plenty of Perry admirers but no Perry voters: “He’s matured, let’s put it that way,” said Pamela Dahl, who lives in the Florida retirement community called The Villages. Still, Dahl said she’s supporting another governor, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and sees Perry as vice presidential.

Kathy Stratham, who’s from Georgia, also feels he’s doing better this year: “He’s more refreshed, without any blunders, and he’s the most pro-life” of all the candidates in her view. But she, too, said she’s in the Wisconsin governor’s camp at this point, though not because of anything in particular that she's heard him say: “I like what he’s done.”

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