When Rick Perry hinted in July at another presidential bid, it seemed like a fresh "oops" moment for the one-time contender whose debate blunder became a metaphor for his hapless campaign. Turns out he wasn't kidding.
This week, Perry is trying to hone his foreign policy credentials in visits to London and Israel. He's also starring in a national advertising campaign that seeks to capitalize on increasing public disgust with Congress by deriding Washington gridlock and touting conservative governors.
The television ad and the overseas trip are sponsored by Perry's new non-profit, Americans for Economic Freedom, which will allow him to travel and promote his economic record as he weighs a presidential campaign.
"Washington needs to change. But the president keeps playing politics," Perry says in the spot. "Conservative governors are reforming taxes and regulations, helping small businesses grow, cutting and balancing budgets."
Next up: Perry retraces his steps to the state that holds the first nominating caucus, with a speech to the Polk County Republican Party in Iowa on Nov. 7.
"He's actively considering it, and I think he's the most underrated presidential candidate who could win," said Henry Barbour, an executive committee member of the Republican National Committee and the nephew of former RNC chairman Haley Barbour.
Perry's last run started strong but began to unravel quickly after a notorious, clumsy mistake in one of the 2011 Republican primary debates, when he couldn't recall the third federal agency he would eliminate if elected. The impression of a campaign simply unprepared for the national stage stuck, leading many Republicans to assume he couldn't possibly be serious about running again.
But, remember that every GOP nominee since Ronald Reagan except George W. Bush had run before and failed. Consider that the government shutdown has convinced many Republicans that their next nominee will not come from Washington. (Although Perry is unlikely to be the only governor in the mix; Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin are also potential 2016 contenders.)
The underpinning of Perry's next campaign would be the contrast between his success at recruiting companies to Texas and the Washington dysfunction that has shuttered the government and pushed the nation toward default.
"It's always difficult to make a second first impression, but if things continue to unravel in Washington, Gov. Perry's message would be very appealing," said Dave Carney, a senior adviser to Perry's 2012 campaign. "The question is whether he'll be able to get new folks to replace donors who feel they've been there, done that, and I'm sure that's part of his effort of going around the country."
The head of the new non-profit, Jeff Miller, is a major Republican fundraiser from California who has relocated to Austin and become one of Perry's closest political advisers. In an effort to better school himself in domestic and foreign policy, Perry has visited the Hoover Institution, a California-based conservative think tank, and huddled with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at his New York City office. He already looks smarter; The New Republicobserved he's been wearing "hipster-professorial glasses" in recent public appearances.
"He's not just surrounding himself with the good ol' boys who ran his campaigns for governor and then ran his campaign for president with the same arrogance that a lot of incumbents run with," said California-based Republican consultant Bob Schuman, who backed Perry in 2012. "I think at the end of the day, he'll be a serious presidential candidate."
One of the most obvious challenges for Perry if he decides to run will be raising enough money to fuel a national campaign. This time he'll be doing it from outside the governor's mansion and trying to convince supporters who invested in him before that he's worth the risk. Perry came in fifth place in the Iowa caucus and sixth in the New Hampshire primary. He vowed to compete in South Carolina but ultimately dropped out before the vote.
"Among most of the people I've talked to who were big funders last time, there's disbelief that he's really going to run again," said Republican consultant Barry Bennett, who advised a super PAC that backed Perry's 2012 bid. "The campaign came on so strong and then it was so catastrophic. It's not like he ran a good race and finished second."