Rick Perry Revisited

The Texas governor seems to have remade himself, and the 2016 presidential field is starting to look wide open.

Texas Governor Rick Perry waits to greet US President Barack Obama in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014 as he arrives for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. Obama requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to help cope with a surge of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Charlie Cook
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Charlie Cook
July 21, 2014, 5:46 p.m.

A piece this Sunday on Texas Gov. Rick Perry in The Des Moines Re­gister by the pa­per’s top polit­ic­al re­port­er, Jen­nifer Jac­obs, caught my eye. Jac­obs’s ob­ser­va­tions about see­ing Perry on the stump in Iowa in re­cent days matched my im­pres­sions from a meet­ing with him last month. Jac­obs ob­served that “a guy who in the past didn’t seem like he could run for a gov­ernor’s of­fice much less the Oval Of­fice seemed like a dif­fer­ent can­did­ate, Iow­ans said, after Perry talked about ‘prosper­ity and hope and free­dom,’ as well as a fa­vor­ite top­ic of his lately, im­mig­ra­tion re­form.” Jac­obs went on: ” ‘We know how to se­cure the bor­der,’ said Perry, the gov­ernor of Texas, his voice rising from quiet solem­nity to a loud com­mand, ‘and if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will not do its duty, then I will sug­gest to you that the state of Texas will.’ ” Jac­obs then noted, “That re­mark brought the audi­ence of about 200 north­w­est Iowa Re­pub­lic­ans to their feet for an ex­ten­ded stand­ing ova­tion. And the room was buzz­ing after the 16-minute speech at the din­ner, a fun­draiser for nine county Re­pub­lic­an parties.”

Jac­obs quoted Hum­boldt County Re­pub­lic­an Party Chair­man Bud Douglas say­ing, “He seems to have ma­tured or changed a bit. He seemed to have more fire, a lot more mo­tiv­a­tion.” State Aud­it­or Mary Mosi­man was quoted in the piece as say­ing, “This was def­in­itely the most en­er­gized I’ve seen him,” adding, ” ‘Spot on’ is what I was just say­ing to a ta­blem­ate of mine. He was very en­er­gized, very up­beat, very mo­tiv­ated.”

These wer­en’t al­ways the kinds of re­views Perry drew in Iowa. Jac­obs poin­ted back to a Re­gister story from Novem­ber 2013 that said Perry de­livered “a short, dead­pan speech” dur­ing which the Tex­an “looked down at notes al­most con­stantly.”

In mid-June, Perry sat down to speak with a group of us, but only after he circled the con­fer­ence table talk­ing one-on-one, spend­ing any­where from 15 seconds to three minutes with each per­son, in­clud­ing the three in­terns, ask­ing them about them­selves, seem­ing to ef­fort­lessly find some com­mon ground or es­tab­lish some rap­port with each per­son, work­ing the room with a skill re­min­is­cent of Bill Clin­ton. We found Perry to be fo­cused, al­beit in a folksy way, per­suas­ive, and very ef­fect­ive.

In the Re­gister piece, after not­ing that in 2012 Perry “got his butt kicked,” Jac­obs ob­served that in his fourth trip to Iowa in eight months, “there are signs Perry has re­hab­il­it­ated him­self to a cer­tain ex­tent since his 2012 pres­id­en­tial bid flopped,” echo­ing my im­pres­sion after sit­ting down with him for an hour. The Tex­an seemed genu­inely humbled by his dis­astrous 2011-12 bid; he had clearly un­der­es­tim­ated the mag­nitude of the chal­lenge of run­ning for pres­id­ent and the real­ity that a White House bid is sig­ni­fic­antly great­er in scale than run­ning even in Texas, a state big­ger and more pop­u­lous that many coun­tries.

I am now con­vinced that what seemed four years ago to be a lame ex­cuse for his troubles—that he had un­der­gone back sur­gery shortly be­fore en­ter­ing the pres­id­en­tial con­test and was still tak­ing paink­illers as he un­der­took the bid—was more real than per­ceived. (My wife suffered a her­ni­ated disk three months ago, less than two weeks be­fore our only daugh­ter’s wed­ding; in all our 32 years of mar­riage, my con­ver­sa­tions with her un­der the in­flu­ence of Vicod­in and Per­co­cet were among the most mem­or­able.) Un­der­go­ing the gruel­ing pro­cess of run­ning for pres­id­ent and en­ga­ging al­most im­me­di­ately in na­tion­ally tele­vised de­bates while re­cov­er­ing from sur­gery and un­der the in­flu­ence of paink­illers would be enough of a han­di­cap for any­one.

Since Perry’s 2012 de­bacle, many ob­serv­ers have ten­ded to write off his chances. But wheth­er one agrees with him or not, he seems to have enough raw tal­ent, com­bined with the be­ne­fit of past ex­per­i­ence, that blow­ing him off might be pre­ma­ture.

Of course, Perry is not the only po­ten­tial White House can­did­ate get­ting strong re­views in the Hawkeye State. New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie en­joyed a “rock-star re­ac­tion” in Iowa ac­cord­ing to The Re­gister, and with the Iowa State Fair com­ing up Aug. 7-17, plenty of po­ten­tial con­tenders will likely flood the state—re­peat vis­its for most. The real­ity is that with former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush look­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely to run, and the chances of former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton passing up on the con­test rising as well—to per­haps as high as 50-50—this could end up be­ing a cam­paign with re­l­at­ively flat can­did­ate fields on each side, neither with a clear front-run­ner or with tiers of ser­i­ous can­did­a­cies. Maybe it’s too soon to be writ­ing many people off.

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