If he runs again in 2016, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hopes better physical and substantive preparation will enable him to avoid the mishaps that made his 2012 race “painful” and “very humbling.” Initial results are distinctly mixed.
One of Perry’s greatest assets is his engaging personal manner, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan. But he may have difficulty escaping the 2012 consensus he’s not up to being president. As Will Rogers (or perhaps Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde) noted, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Already, Perry has stirred one flap akin to those that marked his 2012 campaign, likening homosexuality to alcoholism. And he raised questions about his interest level by suggesting he may retire next January to California.
In any case, Perry says, 2012 taught him a lot.
“Preparation is the single most important lesson I learned out of that process and, over the past 18 months, I’ve focused on being substantially better prepared,” he told reporters at a luncheon sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor last week. After 2011 back surgery, he’s stopped running and wearing cowboy boots. And his schedule this year included the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.
But he cautioned reporters not take his preparation “as an indication I’ve made a decision on whether I’m going to run for the presidency or not.”
Perry knows he needs to prevent a recurrence of the ill-considered comments and occasional inability to explain his own proposals that torpedoed his 2012 bid, exemplified by his brain cramp in an October 2011 television debate when asked the three Cabinet departments he proposed scrapping. The “Oops” he expressed came to epitomize his campaign.
But more extensive preparation has not yet made Perry accident-proof.
“I readily admit, I stepped right into it,” he conceded at the lunch, referring to his controversial comments two weeks ago about homosexuality and alcoholism and adding he should have stuck to his main point: “Whether you’re gay or straight, you need to be having a job.”
During the Monitor session, Perry erroneously referred to Richard Fisher, president and CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, as “the Federal Reserve chairman.” While no one raised it, he might not be so fortunate in a televised debate.
Reporters raised three other potential problems.
First, his age. He’ll turn 66 during the campaign, older than all likely Republican rivals (though three years younger than Hillary Clinton).
“Sixty-six is the new 46,” he quipped, adding that “Age is less important than ideas or experiences,” especially for Republicans “having watched this young, inexperienced president bumble from scandal to foreign policy debacle after debacle.”
Second, his disagreement with the scientific consensus that human-created pollution is a major cause of global climate change. “That is not settled science,” he insisted.
“Short term, I’m substantially more concerned about Iran changing the temperature in New York than I am some 50 years down the road that could be played by the environmental choices that are being made in the United States,” he said.
Third, the political rise of a fellow Texas Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, who outruns Perry in recent Texas and national polls.
He dismissed Cruz as “a junior senator,” and, when asked about his defeat by Cruz in a straw poll at the recent state Republican convention, noted he trailed former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by 30 points the year before he routed her in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.
Despite Perry’s easy dismissal of those potential problems, he sometimes indicates an awareness that the presidency might not be in the cards. Mark Leibovich of The New York Times said Perry told him he loves California and might retire there after leaving office. And he told the Monitor luncheon his goal is remaining “a person of influence in some form or fashion. It may not take the role of a candidate.
“Not only is my eyesight beginning to fail, but I’m getting to be a bit of an elder statesman, so maybe that’s the role” he added, alluding to the eyeglasses he now wears in what critics derided as an effort to look smarter. Whether he runs or not, he vowed: “I’m not going to ride off into the sunset.”
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: email@example.com.