Campaign 2012: Hello Rick Perry, GOP Presidential Candidate
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Campaign 2012: Hello Rick Perry, GOP Presidential Candidate

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Texas Governor Rick Perry delivers remarks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 11, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)
Texas Governor Rick Perry delivers remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on February 11, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters) 

For seventeen of the past forty-eight years, a Texan has lived in the White House. Current Texas governor Rick Perry hopes to make that twenty-five of the past fifty-six years. The favorite son of Paint Creek, Texas announced today in South Carolina that he is all in for the 2012 GOP presidential race. He promises Americans: “I will work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your lives as I can.”

The Basics

  • Full Name: James Richard “Rick” Perry
  • Date of Birth: March 4, 1950
  • Place of Birth: Paint Creek, Texas
  • Religion: United Methodist
  • Marital Status: Married (Anita Perry)
  • Children: Griffin, Sydney
  • Alma Mater: BS Texas A&M
  • Political Offices Held: Longest serving governor of Texas, 2000–Present; Chairman, Republican Governors Association, 2010–Present; Lieutenant Governor of Texas, 1999–2000; Commissioner of Texas Department of Agriculture, 1991–1999; Texas State House of Representatives, 1985–1991.

What Supporters Say. Rush Limbaugh is a pro at getting the Republican base fired up, and he, for one, thinks that Perry has the “potential” to “light up” the GOP nominating contest.

Reggie Bashur, a political consultant and former aide to Governor George W. Bush, predicts that Perry will be a tough competitor thanks to his impressive record in state office:

He’s got an outstanding record as governor. If you look at the sessions that are going through right now, Texas will balance the budget without a tax increase…and that’s all to the governor’s credit. In a Republican primary he would be strong both on the economic and social issues.

New York Republican Country Committee Chairman Daniel W. Issacs agrees:

Governor Perry is the perfect example that we in New York should be looking to. At a time when New York ranks at or near the bottom among states in every important metric, Texas is leading the way. By focusing on keeping taxes low and fostering a fair legal and regulatory environment, Governor Perry has helped Texas attract business and residents at a time when New York has been hemorrhaging both.

Mississippi Lt. Governor Phil Bryant adds that Perry’s personality matches his accomplishments. He pays Perry the ultimate Republican compliment:

He has a real Reaganesque personality about him. He’s so relaxed, he’s such a great communicator. He is really one of the most dynamic leaders that we’ve seen on a national level.

Pamela Tucker is deputy speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is confident that Perry will do well in the home of “Live Free or Die”:

He’s a personable man, who speaks well on issues, is easy to talk to. He has a great, strong message about job creation.”

What Critics Say. Perry has picked up his share of critics over his career. Harold Cook, a Democratic Party strategist, first met Perry when both were Democrats back in 1989. Cook now says of Perry:

For the most part he’s unencumbered by conscience. That’s a real luxury. If you aren’t worried about the right policy, all that’s left is for your political director to tell you what’s unpopular. We who are involved in Texas politics are all just props in Rick Perry’s movie. When his priorities are just picked out of a hat based on what Republican primary voters want, we’re bit players.

Democratic Texas state representative, Joaquin Castro, says that Perry is not investing in Texas’s future:

We’re not creating a system that educates [Texans] well and prepares them. We underinvest in these things, which is what Perry is doing in public education and higher education. We can create the jobs, and that’s great. But our own people who have gone through Texas schools and Texas universities aren’t the ones filling them.

Perry makes no secret of his Christian beliefs. He organized and publicized the Response Prayer Event last weekend in Houston. It was “a Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states, and nation.” Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin found the event "inappropriate" because Perry’s speech to the crowd was "not ecumenical":

The event suggests that Perry, a man of considerable confidence, is not accustomed to operating on a national, rather than Texan, stage. One of his key problems is the degree to which he can expand beyond a base of Christian conservative supporters. This will make the task somewhat more difficult.

C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Washington, DC-based Interfaith Alliance, had strong words for Perry:

I want to be clear that my criticism of the governor doesn’t stem from my lack of appreciation for religion, rather it comes from my deep respect for religion and from not wanting religion to be prostituted for political purposes. I think the people of Texas elected him to be the governor of the state, not the pastor of the state.

Stories You Will Hear More About. Perry grew up in Paint Creek, Texas, which veteran Texas Monthly writer Paul Burka says is in “the middle of nowhere.” It is fifty-four miles north of Abilene, which in turn is 180 miles west of Dallas. Paint Creek is an “unincorporated area” rather than a town, and yes, it is named after a stream.

Perry is a fifth generation Texan. His father was a cotton farmer. Perry, just like fellow presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, is an Eagle Scout; in 1964 he was honored with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. He even wrote a book about the Boy Scouts, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For.

Perry attended Texas A&M University. This is a significant fact in Texas, where the divide between Texas A&M and The University of Texas at Austin—yes, UT really does insist on capitalizing the “T” in “the”—runs deep and extends far beyond bragging rights over who wins on the football field. [Three friendly tips if you will be meeting Governor Perry: 1.) wear maroon and white and not burnt orange and white; 2.) say “Gig ‘em, Aggies!” rather than “Hook ‘em Horns”; and 3.) praise Reveille the full-blooded collie but not Bevo the longhorn.]

Perry was a member of Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets. In case you didn’t know this already, Texas A&M is one of only six universities not run by the federal government with a full-time Corps of Cadets program. (Virginia Tech, North Georgia College and State University, Norwich University, The Citadel, and Virginia Military Institute are the other five). Cadets wear uniforms, go through military training, and can be commissioned in all branches of military service. (Reveille is the highest ranking member of the Corps of Cadets; she is a Five-Star General.)

Perry was a yell leader, or male cheerleader, at Texas A&M. He majored in animal science, but he wasn’t a stellar student. He earned mostly Cs and Ds (even in gym class and U.S. history), and ended up on academic probation. After graduating, he joined the Air Force. He served for five years as a C-130 pilot.

Rick and his wife Anita Perry were childhood sweethearts—they met in elementary school. Anita worked as a nurse for seventeen years; the nursing school at Texas Tech University is named after her. (Anita attended Texas Tech but earned her bachelor’s degree at West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M University.) During her husband’s time as governor, Anita has been involved in politics as well, leading economic development delegations to South America, Europe, and Japan. She also appears to hold the distinction of being the first Texan first lady to hold a paying job outside the governor’s mansion; she briefly worked as a contract employee for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Perry, like Michele Bachmann, began his political career as a Democrat, winning election to the Texas State House of Representatives back in 1985. Four years later, he switched to the GOP. Texas Monthly writer Paul Burka says that Perry’s rivals would be making a mistake if they try to use his Democratic roots against him; since switching parties, Perry has been a “rock-solid Republican…and has driven the state party further to the right.” Perry recalls that the last Democrat he voted for in a presidential contest was Jimmy Carter back in the 1976 election:

I’ll confess, I wasn’t paying much attention. I was flying. Jimmy Carter. Peanut farmer. Georgia. Fooled us.

Perry in His Own Words. Perry is known to stand his ground when it comes to what he believes. He sums up his approach to politics:

It saddens me, sometimes, when my fellow Republicans duck and cover in the face of pressure from the left. Our loudest opponents on the left are never going to like us, so let’s quit trying to curry favor with them.

In an interview during his 2010 reelection campaign, Perry expanded on his take-it-or-leave-it approach to politics:

The Republican Party is better suited for...values that I believe in: fiscal conservatism, pro-life, pro-national defense. If you don’t believe in those, then, sorry, I’m not going to compromise my values. Some people see that as partisan. I don’t.

Perry explains his model for Texas’s success—an approach to governing that he will likely brand as his own approach for pulling the entire country out of economic decline:

By balancing our budget without raising taxes, Texas once again will stand in stark contrast to states that choose to burden their residents with higher taxes and onerous regulatory mandates. We’re doing it exactly the way we said we would by prioritizing, cutting spending, and tightening our belts.

The Campaign Book. In Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, which ironically has a foreword written by fellow GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, Perry rails against the federal government’s burdensome tax and regulatory policies. He argues that America’s greatness lies with “how many great things people do in spite of their government.”

Foreign Policy Views. In Fed Up!, Perry lays out a world view that may remind some people of George W. Bush:

We are now confronted with the rise of new economic and military powerhouses in China and India, as well as a Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence. There is no reason to believe that armed conflict with any major power is imminent, but the world is rapidly changing, and the United States must be prepared for the ramifications of shifting balances of power.

North Korea and Iran, in contrast, are utterly unpredictable and present an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions...Leftists in Latin America are threatening democracy, and Hugo Chavez is harboring communist rebels in Venezuela. All of these issues require our attention and investment in defense capabilities.

Fed Up! doesn’t say much in the way of specifics about what Perry would do about these threats.

The Bush-Perry foreign policy parallels continue. To prepare for the campaign, Perry met with Doug Feith and William Luti, both of whom held senior level positions in DoD under Bush. Who helped organize the strategy session? None other than Donald Rumsfeld.

Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy’s "The Cable" spoke with a foreign policy adviser familiar with Rick Perry who said that Perry’s foreign policy will be “hawk internationalist,” and that "he has no sympathy for the neo-isolationist impulses emanating from some quarters of the Republican Party."

Following President Obama’s May speech on the Middle East, Perry joined other prominent Republicans in slamming what he had to say (and grossly mischaracterizing it along the way):

President Obama’s speech…continues a misguided policy of alienating our traditional allies, in this case Israel, one of our strongest partners in the war on terror. As someone who has visited Israel numerous times, I know that it is impracticable to revert to the 1967 lines. President Obama is asking our Israeli friends to give up too much security and territory as a prelude to a renewed peace process.

Perry has spoken more about foreign policy in recent months. In June, he criticized organizers of a flotilla seeking to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, he wrote:

As an American citizen and governor of one of its largest states, I write to applaud your recent efforts to warn and discourage those who have supported or plan to support a flotilla intended to interfere with Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.

He added:

More importantly, I write to encourage you to aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts.

On July 12, just two days after the White House announced that it planned to withhold $800 million in aid money from Pakistan, Perry met with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The two chatted about ways to improve the Pakistani economy as well as the fraught Pakistani-American relationship. Musharraf had requested the meeting in order to “exchange notes” about Texas’s economic success and ways to translate that success to Pakistan.

The 1,241 mile-long border that Texas shares with Mexico has given Perry good reason to worry about the success of Mexico’s war on drug traffickers. Last year, Perry suggested that sending U.S. troops to the border was one possible option.

I think we have to use every aspect of law enforcement that we have, including the military. Any means that we can [use] to run these people off our border and to save Americans’ lives, we need to be engaged in.

Nonetheless, Perry parts from many Republicans on the question of tighter immigration laws. He generally opposes them. In 2007 he called for completely open borders with Mexico, urging the “free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico.” He pushed for building the Trans-Texas Corridor, a toll road that would run from Mexico through Texas and be managed by both governments. Perry has also defended Texas’s policy of giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, opposed building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, criticized Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigration law, and dismissed the prospect that verification systems like E-Verify will substantially reduce illegal immigration.

Perry has traveled overseas numerous times during his governorship, visiting China, Mexico, Iraq, Italy, Qatar, Turkey, France, and Sweden among others. Not surprisingly, most of these trips focused on encouraging trade with and investment in Texas.

Like many other Republican candidates, Perry will make President Obama’s supposed disdain for American exceptionalism a prominent part of his critique of Obama’s foreign policy. Early in his announcement speech Perry declared:

We don’t need a President who apologizes for America

A few moments later, he put the point even more bluntly:

What I learned in my 20’s traveling the globe as an Air Force pilot, our current president has yet to acknowledge in his 50’s—that we are the most exceptional nation on the face of the earth.

Target Audience. Perry hopes to appeal to all three wings of the GOP: fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, and social conservatives. His main rival for the votes of fiscal and social conservatives looks to be Michele Bachmann. She has an initial edge over Perry when it comes to wooing voters in Iowa, where the first nominating event will be held—she was born there, lives in the state next door, and has been campaigning across the state for months. Perry’s main rival in making the claim to being the most electable general election candidate looks to be Mitt Romney, who has the home field advantage in the second nominating event, New Hampshire. Romney was the governor of the neighboring state of Massachusetts, and he owns a vacation house in New Hampshire. Should Perry hold his own in both Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be well on his way to uniting fiscal, national security, and social conservatives.

Major Strengths. Call it luck, good timing, or stellar political instincts—but whatever it is, Perry has it. He has never lost a campaign, even though on a couple of occasions he wasn’t favored to win. Chris Bell, a former congressman who had the misfortune of competing against Perry for the governorship, says:

He’s the luckiest politician that ever walked the face of the Earth. Luck has a lot to do with success in politics—good timing, right circumstances, all play in to the likelihood of success and he has been very opportunistic throughout the past couple of decades and it has served him well.

Ted Delisi, a Perry adviser and Republican consultant, adds that his boss has often had the advantage of being “vastly underestimated” at the start of his campaigns. He also thinks that Perry has an important gift that many other politicians lack:

He has a pretty good sense of what the average voter cares about.

During his nearly eleven years as Texas’s governor, Perry has developed a reputation as a fearless legislative fighter. The Texas state constitution created a weak governorship. Perry, however, has “reinvented the office as a power center.” At a time when many Americans believe that the United States lacks strong leadership and say that President Obama’s conciliatory style of governing has failed, Perry’s hard-line, take-no-prisoners attitude toward politics may appeal to voters. Paul Burka explains:

Perry is a hard man. He is the kind of politician who would rather be feared than loved—or respected. And he has gotten his wish. Perry does not have many friends in the ­Legislature.

Perry’s accomplishments in office will help him make the case for his leadership skills. In particular, Perry will be able to tout Texas’s record in job creation. The Lone Star state has generated 37 percent of all new jobs in the United States since 2009. You can bet that Perry will take credit for that success.

Major Weaknesses. As with other candidates who excite the Republican base, Perry’s red-meat politics could undermine his efforts to court more moderate voters. Newsweek explains:

What remains to be seen is whether voters are ready to reward [candidates] for their conservatism—or whether they’re more comfortable sticking closer to the center of the spectrum.

Perry will also test the country’s willingness to give another Texan governor a chance to sit in the White House. Perry served for a year as Bush’s lieutenant governor and succeeded him as governor. So Democrats will have plenty of photos of the two together to use in negative ads should Perry win the GOP nomination. They also have Perry saying back in 2000 that “you are not going to see a great philosophical difference between Rick Perry and George Bush.”

Perry understands the problem and has begun distancing himself from Bush. He has recently taken to saying that he and Bush “came from different backgrounds,” and “philosophically, we weren’t peas in a pod.” He criticizes Bush for going on “a big-government binge,” and plays down the former president’s accomplishments.

While the Texas economy is generating jobs, the state currently faces a $4.3 billion deficit. More problems are looming on the horizon. State budget revenues are projected to fall by 2.9 percent over the next two years to $72.2 billion. Simply maintaining the current level of state services over the next two years is projected to cost $99 billion. Making up that $27 billion shortfall will be painful, especially given that tax increases aren’t likely to be part of the solution.

Perry will also have to face down criticisms about the things that Texas doesn’t do so well. Critics will point out that Texas has the country’s third highest property taxes and that its educational system has the one of the country’s worst drop-out rates.

Perry’s refusal to embrace restrictive immigration laws may help him in a general election but it could hurt him in the race for the GOP nomination. Republican critics of Perry’s positions on immigration have already begun complaining. They note that Numbers USA, a group that pushes for more restrictive immigration laws, gives Perry a “D-" on immigration. In a 2010 poll, Gallup found that 54 percent of Republicans want to see immigration decrease.

Last but not least, Perry will find himself answering questions about whether he really believes in these United States. At a 2009 Tea Party rally, Perry stirred up controversy by implying that Texas may at some point secede from the Union:

We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.

The comment did not upset most Texans. That’s perhaps not surprising. Texas after all was once an independent country, a fact that lingers in the state tourism slogan: “Texas: It’s like a whole other country.” Plenty of other folks did object, however. They argue that his comments weren’t innocuous as he later claimed. People in the crowd that day were shouting “Secede!”, and Perry (inaccurately) claimed that the terms of Texas’s entry into the Union in 1845 gave it the right to secede.

Secession talk aside, Perry remains a devoted proponent of the Tenth Amendment:

That’s the beauty of the system our founding fathers devised when they ratified the 10th amendment to the Constitution, ensuring states had the freedom to do things their own way and the flexibility to meet their challenges in whichever fashion works best for them.

Perry in Depth. Texas Monthly has covered Perry’s career for years. More than a year ago Paul Burka argued that Perry would be a formidable presidential candidate. Burka followed up recently with a list of eight things journalists need to know about the Texas governor. The Wall Street Journal outlines what Perry can bring to the table if elected. The Washington Post reviews Perry’s chances for winning support in key states.

In an interview with an Austin news channel, Perry discussed the Texas economy, his views on taxes, and making “thoughtful, principled decisions about spending."

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

Odds for Winning the Nomination. Perry starts out strong as a presidential candidate. The question is whether he will go the way of George W. Bush or John Connally. Even though Perry has only just begun campaigning, the most recent Gallup poll has him just two percentage points behind the front-runner. Perry’s positive intensity score—that is, the difference between those who know and like him and those who know him and don’t—is higher than that of any other Republican contender. His name recognition lags far behind that of Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, which means he has an opportunity to make new friends. Paddy Power puts Perry’s odds at winning the next presidential election at 5 to 1.

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