First, Gov. Rick Perry issued a fire-breathing call to arms at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month outside Washington, D.C. He followed up with a disarming performance before an initially hostile crowd on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” during South by Southwest last week. Then on Monday, Perry departed for California to once again sell Texas as a red state destination for blue state businesses, and sell himself as someone worth a serious second look as a presidential candidate in 2016.
The March 4 primary marked another milepost in the coming end of the Perry era in Texas state government. But Perry, these days sans cowboy boots but sporting a stylish pair of Oliver Peoples glasses, has made surprising strides in rebranding himself as someone who could yet be a contender nationally.
His yin and yang performances at CPAC and the Jimmy Kimmel showed off the range of Perry’s political skills, and a new survey conducted for CNN by ORC International March 7-9, indicate that he could yet rise from the ashes of the epic flameout of his 2012 campaign for president.
In the CNN poll, Perry placed third among potential GOP presidential candidates, with 11 percent support, behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, with 16 percent, and Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, with 15 percent, but ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“Perry is without doubt a much better politician than the bumbler who came across in 2012,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Monday.
“The GOP presidential contest is so wide open, two years before the nominating battle begin, that no high-ranking, ambitious officeholder should be ruled out,” Sabato said. “Plus, there’s a reason why so many Texas politicians have had a high profile in the national GOP. Texas is by far the largest state that reliably votes Republican, plus it is a very conservative state that probably reflects the base throughout the nation. So a Perry comeback is undeniably possible if other candidates with broader appeal fall by the wayside.”
Although the governor finished far back in the pack in the CPAC straw poll, his speech was a sensation.
“It is time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas,” he declared. “But instead of looking to Washington to find the front lines of this battle, I ask you to look to the states, where we find the laboratories of innovation, and 50 different experiments in democracy taking place”
“It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role. Defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and what the heck, deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays,” Perry exhorted the conservative faithful. “Get out of the health care business. Get out of the education business. Stop hammering industry. Wake the sleeping giant of American enterprise.”
For the past year Perry has crisscrossed the country on trips to blue states such as New York, Illinois, and now, for the third time, California, preaching the gospel that Texas is the model of red-state governance — light on taxes, regulation and litigation — that creates the ideal climate for job creation.
This trip — during which the governor will talk to business leaders in Orange County, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley before returning to Texas on Wednesday — is being paid for by Americans for Economic Freedom, a nonprofit created to enable Perry to promote his economic vision. AEF also amplifies the message with radio and TV ads — in this case a weeklong $300,000 statewide buy.
In the ads, Perry boasts that “Over the past year-and-a-half, more than 50 California companies have announced plans to expand or relocate in Texas, creating more than 14,000 jobs.”
The list of companies, compiled by AEF, includes Apple, which is building a $304 million campus in Austin, and Occidental Petroleum, which is splitting into two companies and moving its headquarters to Houston.
But perhaps Perry’s most impressive recent performance was Tuesday, where, walking on stage before a boisterous crowd at the Long Center for the Performing Arts for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” he was greeted by applause that was quickly swallowed up by a chorus of boos.
“What have you done to make these people dislike you so intensely?” asked Kimmel.
“Austin’s kind of the blueberry in the tomato soup in the state, if you will,” said Perry.
From there the conversation turned to marijuana.
“You know, Snoop Dog was here last night,” said Kimmel.
“I know, I could smell it,” said Perry, who said he had never smoked pot, unless you counted breathing in secondhand smoke left over from the rapper’s visit the day before.
On decriminalization, Perry said the state had “made really smart decisions,” about diverting people caught with small amounts of drugs away from jail time.
“We don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for having a joint,” said Perry, adding, “We’ve even been able to shut down a prison in the state of Texas. That’s conservative.”
Asked by Kimmel about his presidential ambitions, Perry said this was “not the crowd” to whom to announce his plans. When Kimmel reminded Perry that running for president “didn’t go that great last time,” Perry replied, “America is a great place for second chances. Let’s just leave it at that.”
He departed to general applause.
As Scott Conroy, the national political writer at RealClear Politics, wrote afterward, “As easy as it may be to dismiss the idea of a second White House bid by Perry, there is an undeniable truth in his observation about the appeal of a comeback story.”
“He’s really got an infectious personality,” Joe Scarborough, a former congressman from Florida who himself has been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said the next morning on his MSNBC show, Morning Joe. “I’m just saying, you see this guy in a tough interview, smiling, relaxed … I’m not so sure this guy isn’t going to be more ready for prime time in 2016. He may surprise some people.”