Rick Perry Wasn’t Kidding. He’s Really Thinking About 2016

The Texas governor is studying up on foreign policy, running ads critical of Washington, and planning a trip to Iowa.

Texas Governor Rick Perry arrives for a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican Party's State Party Convention in Anaheim, California, on October 4, 2013. More than 1,000 party activists and leaders are expected to attend the three-day convention.  
National Journal
Beth Reinhard
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Beth Reinhard
Oct. 16, 2013, 6 a.m.

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.”

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