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Rick Perry Tries Again

06/10/2015 07:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

I've been giving each of the major candidates for president a serious overview, right after they officially announce their candidacy. Today, we'll take a look at Rick Perry, who made his formal announcement last week.

Perry is the tenth Republican to throw his hat in the 2016 ring, joining Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum. There are at least five other Republicans who will also likely make a run for their party's nomination, but they have yet to formally announced their candidacies.

Rick Perry served the longest term as Texas governor in the state's history, taking over the office from George W. Bush (when Bush left to become president), and Perry only stepped down from this post earlier this year. He, obviously, wants to follow the trail Bush blazed from the Texas governor's office to the Oval Office. However, this will be the second run for Perry, and he'll have to improve significantly on his previous performance to even have a chance of doing so.

This is likely the biggest obstacle Perry faces. In an incredibly crowded Republican field, there are only three men who are not making their first run for the presidency: Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Perry. None of these three have exactly caught fire in the polls yet (although it is early, and anything could still happen). But it does seem that this time around the Republican electorate is looking for a completely new face to head their ticket, which could spell doom for the three also-rans.

Perry's 2012 run was impressive, at least at first. Right after he announced, he leapt to the top of the polling, beating out Mitt Romney and all the rest of the Republican field. Unfortunately for Perry, he didn't stay on top of the heap for very long, and his chances all but evaporated after a disastrous debate performance. When asked to name the three federal government departments he would work to abolish as president, Perry infamously could only name two of them. After hemming and hawing for a while, Perry just threw in the towel and replied: "Oops." This "oops moment" absolutely torpedoed whatever chance he might have had to beat Romney and the rest of the field, and his poll numbers quickly sank like a stone.

A plausible explanation for his disastrous debate performance was revealed later: Perry had undergone back surgery mere weeks before he announced his candidacy, and was on some serious painkillers during the debates (indeed, during his whole campaign). Anyone who has ever been on such painkillers can easy attest that they don't exactly go hand-in-hand with coherent thinking or clear-headedness. If Perry was popping pills before walking on the debate stage, it's a little more understandable that his memory wasn't fully in working order, in other words. Perry's big problem, however, is that you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.

Perry falls somewhere in the middle of the conservative ideological spectrum. He's taken a very hard line on some issues dear to the Republican base, but then he's also championed some rather unorthodox positions as well, which might cause him problems if he does rise to the frontrunner ranks of the Republican pack (where his positions will get much more scrutiny from his fellow Republicans).

Perry, as governor, slashed the state's safety net to the bone, and pushed a conservative version of health care reform, which consisted mostly of "tort reform." But Texas is now the number one state in the country when it comes to the rate of uninsured citizens, meaning this panacea didn't exactly work wonders. Perry is a hardliner on abortion, and opposes it in almost all cases -- including for rape or incest victims -- and would only carve out an exception if the life of the mother is at risk. Perry is counting on the religious right's support (he announced his 2012 presidential candidacy at a prayer rally), and is stridently anti-gay-rights. He has expressed support for a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Perry is an Eagle Scout, and strongly supported the Boy Scouts banning gays from their ranks. He is (no surprise, for a Texas Republican) very pro-gun and presided over the executions of hundreds of Texas prisoners -- more than any other state by far. All these things are pretty standard Republican positions, well within the mainstream of his party.

Perry, however, has broken ranks with Republican orthodoxy in several notable ways. He signed a law in Texas to give undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates at state colleges, which is much more liberal than most conservatives' position. Unlike some of the other Republicans running for president (Marco Rubio, chiefly), Perry actually stood behind this action and defended it, rather than running away from it in an effort to pander to Republican voters. Perry also championed mandatory HPV vaccine shots for young women, which raised eyebrows among many Republicans (and not only the anti-vaccine crowd). Perry has one further issue that has long been a bugaboo among the more conspiracy-minded Republicans (and libertarians). Perry supported the "Trans-Texas Corridor" project which would have created a major transportation route from Oklahoma to Mexico, in an effort to boost trade through his state. But this soon became the stuff of conspiracy theory, supposedly being just a preliminary to some sort of merger of Canada, Mexico and the United States into a supposedly-nightmarish regional government which would destroy life as we know it in America. Or something. This likely won't hurt Perry all that much, however, because so few people have heard about it, and because the project never really got off the ground.

Perry's strong point -- the foundation of his campaign, if last time is any indication -- is the explosive growth in Texas during his time in office. Perry likes to refer to this as the "Texas miracle," on the campaign trail. Texas showed an enormous amount of growth in jobs and population over the past 15 years, and (just as one indicator) the state added a whopping four seats in the House of Representatives in the last reapportionment (after the 2010 census) -- far more than any other state (California, by comparison, added zero seats, while New York and Ohio both lost two seats). Perry is running as the man who made such spectacular growth happen, in short. How much of the credit is his is debatable, as is much of the "Texas Miracle" itself, but politicians aren't exactly shy about claiming such credit, so Perry's claims are really just par for the course.

Perry may be weak on the actual fiscal record of Texas, however -- a point so far not being made by his opponents in the Republican field, but one which could gain traction if Perry starts doing better in the polls. While Perry was governor, the state began financing such basic services as roads (and other infrastructure) and unemployment benefits, by borrowing an enormous amount of money. The total state debt essentially tripled during his term as governor, due largely to his refusal to raise taxes. This may not go over very well with the fiscal conservatives in the Republican base -- again, if any of his opponents actually uses it to attack Perry.

Perry is also running as a strong proponent of beefing up border security, an issue where he's got more experience than most of his Republican opponents (Texas shares the longest border with Mexico of any state). He's hoping to defuse the immigration issue by being the strongest voice for increasing border patrols and stopping illegal entry on America's southern border.

Could Perry's candidacy catch fire the way it did the last time around? Well, anything's possible, especially this early in the race. But so far, it just hasn't happened. He has received a small bump in the polling, but he's still in tenth place overall -- right behind Donald Trump. If he's going to be considered a viable candidate, he'll have to get his poll numbers out of the bottom tier of candidates. Unfortunately for Perry, there are a lot of other people who will be attempting to do exactly the same thing.

If Perry does surprise everyone and start moving up, he's got as good a chance as most of the candidates to break into the top rank (currently occupied by Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker). At the present time, however, there are no indications that this is going to happen. But perhaps one very good debate performance (to finally bury the notoriety of his previous debate performances) could move him up to challenge the frontrunners.

Perry's Texas swagger probably wouldn't go over all that well in a general election, though, if he were somehow to become the Republican nominee. In the first place, the last Republican who was president also had a pronounced Texas swagger, and look what that got us all. Perry will have a similar problem to Jeb Bush's, in separating himself from the man he took over the Texas governor's office from: George W. Bush. My guess is that if it came down to a race between Hillary Clinton and Rick Perry, Clinton would beat him pretty easily. But I would be very surprised if Perry got that far. I think his "oops moment" is going to be remembered by too many voters for him to recreate his image (glasses or not). I also think that the Republican electorate truly is looking for something new in their candidate of choice this year, and as a direct result Perry isn't even going to merit much attention from most Republican primary voters.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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