Only 12 years after Dubya, another Texan wants to be president

By Alex Eliseev 16 August 2011

Even as Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll on Saturday, driving Tim Pawlenty out of the race, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he also wanted to challenge Barack Obama in 2012. With Perry’s announcement and Bachmann’s win, the race for the Republican nomination is now a three-person race, including ostensible front-runner Mitt Romney. By JR BROOKS EWING SPECTOR.

Romney hadn’t really campaigned in Iowa and Perry’s name hadn’t even been on the ballot. Second place finisher Ron Paul won’t be going away,  but he will remain a spoiler rather than a viable candidate.

Now in his 11th year, Perry is the country’s longest continuously serving governor. Along the way he has developed a style – and policies to match – that vociferously champions small government, supports business and smudges the line between religion and politics with public prayer meetings to end a drought, even as he has cultivated wealthy financial backers. In his first speech as a candidate, The Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg described Perry’s strengths and weaknesses.
“From the opening of Perry’s address, a tribute to Navy Seals who died in Afghanistan last week, he projected confident, telegenic authenticity… [But] Perry also has a way of letting his mouth get ahead of his brain — or at least one hopes that’s what is happening. Before flirting with running for president, Perry was perhaps best known for speculating about Texan secession from the United States….”

Perry’s fundraising may be problematic as well when opponents begin to put a spotlight on who actually backs him. Besides making the usual direct contributions to his campaign, his supporters have set up a whole series of “super-PACs” that assemble funding in support of a candidate’s run for the presidential nomination without being a direct part of their campaign. Unlike direct campaign contributions, super-PACs are not subject to federal limits on individual contributions to candidates because they ostensibly support issues and positions, not candidates.

Now that he is officially running, he will face challenges to prove his mettle as a national winner. First he needs to prove he can be a “retail” politician who can thrive in small state primaries and caucuses like New Hampshire, where small-group meetings are the path to success.

Moreover, Perry must now sort out and articulate a plausible, innovative domestic agenda, beyond repetitions of his political biography. He won’t need a detailed, 10-point plan yet, but he’s going to be challenged on his views about social entitlement reforms, tax law changes and environmental issues once the candidates go into those multiple debates in September.

In operational terms, this means allocating resources, time and energy so he can break from the pack: Does he go all-out for a respectable showing in New Hampshire and/or Iowa, or wait for South Carolina, playing to his regional strength? Or should he take a bigger chance on a roll of the dice, going for all three?

Strategically he must find ways to appeal to Michele Bachmann’s passionate, conservative values-driven, ideological constituency – even as he carves away at Romney’s bona fides as a successful business veteran – and simultaneously sets out his campaign to haul in independents in the general election – all without alienating these various corners in the earlier primary season. Given the obvious, Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner emailed journalists on Saturday to say, “Over the next several months, Governor Perry looks forward to talking directly with voters about improving our economy and getting America working again”.

Perry is a sixth-generation Texan and his father was involved in local politics. Like pretty much everybody else then, Perry’s father was a born Democrat. After graduation from Texas A and M University, Perry entered the Air Force as a pilot. Five years later he became a Democratic state legislator. Then he changed parties, was elected state agricultural commissioner, lieutenant governor, and then became governor when George W Bush became president.

Jonathan Chait, writing in New Republic argues Perry would “do more to limit the power of the federal government—or at least attempt to do more—than any president since Calvin Coolidge.” If Perry’s own words are to be believed, he would scrap the social security system he calls a failure and allow each state to set up its own pension (or not) as it sees fit. Perry adds, “I would suggest a legitimate conversation about let[ting] the states keep their money and implement[ing] the program[me]s.” Perry also wants to put Medicare on the chopping block, saying “the states could substantially better operate”.

In the coming months, Republican primary voters – from the ones who believe, along with Ron Paul, that the Federal Reserve Bank is the root of all evil, to the social conservatives who reject same-sex marriage and even to rare birds who remain convinced economic growth and jobs are the real issues upon which a candidate should be judged – will have to decide if another Texas governor with big ideas about midget government is what the country needs. And looking ahead, there are all those worried independents potentially regretting  their 2008 choice of Barack Obama – will they now have sufficient buyers’ remorse to go for the guy in the cowboy boots whose state has solid job growth, but some embarrassing statistics on social welfare and education, come November 2012. Then again, his Texan predecessor was considered an idiot and yet he ruled the world for eight years. DM




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Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks as his wife Anita (R) looks on at a house party hosted by State Representative Pam Tucker in Greenland, New Hampshire August 13, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder


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