Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined a number of current and presumed presidential hopefuls at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Economic Growth Summit near Orlando on Tuesday. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)
Four years ago, Rick Perry’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination got off to a high-profile start and then imploded. Now the man best known nationwide for his “Oops” moment and his cowboy boots is asking America for a second chance, announcing a new bid for the White House on Thursday afternoon at a military star-studded event at an airfield north of Dallas.
Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas, has revamped his strategy since his disastrous exit from the last race. Since leaving the governor’s mansion in January, he has boned up on foreign and domestic policy with a rotating team of advisers. He no longer wears his signature cowboy boots, which exacerbate the back problems that dogged him in 2012, and he has started sporting black-framed “hipster” glasses that lend him some gravitas. His advisers say his loss taught him humility that will fuel his comeback. But so far, Perry has been dogged by low poll numbers that suggest the GOP base is still skeptical.
Part of the governor’s strategy to win over the skeptics is to emphasize his experience in the military and his support for veterans. “Lone Survivor” Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and Taya Kyle, the widow of “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle, are set to join the governor when he will announce his second run for the presidency in Addison, Texas. (The Perry team debuted a new “Perry for President” seal early Thursday morning on his campaign website.) The venue and special guests will allow Perry to highlight his own stint in the Air Force in the 1970s, when he piloted cargo planes and participated in several humanitarian missions abroad. Perry is one of just two presumptive GOP candidates to have served in the military (the other is Sen. Lindsey Graham), and he has touted this experience over the past year as a way to distinguish himself in the crowded Republican field.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a Republican presidential Debate in 2011. (Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)
Perry swaggered into the 2012 race looking strong for the GOP nomination before his campaign crashed and burned, in part because his rivals jumped on his support for in-state tuition for the children of unauthorized immigrants and painted him as soft on illegal immigration. Then, the death blow: In the middle of a November debate, Perry set off a cringe bomb when he couldn’t name the third federal agency he promised to eliminate if elected president.
“I can’t, the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said.
This time around, a chastened Perry has been boning up on domestic and foreign policy for months and has also spent more time than any other candidate politicking in Iowa, hoping to make a splash in the state’s early caucuses. The 65-year-old says his back problems are under control now and he feels healthier and fitter than before.
On a radio show last week, Perry admitted that he was “naive” about what it took to run for president. “I knew that after our unsuccessful attempt in 2011-2012, I was a bit naive about what it required to run for the presidency of the United States,” he said. “Just being the governor of Texas was not enough.”
His advisers say he’s much more prepared now. “Everyone who’s around him sees the difference when it comes to preparation and acuity,” said Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank and one of Perry’s advisers. “I think … a big part of that is the humility that comes from the experience he had last time around has driven him to be as prepared as he possibly can be this time around.”
Although Perry says he realizes having been governor of Texas isn’t enough on its own to win him the presidency, it’s still the record he will be running on. Perry expanded the relatively puny powers of the governorship in Texas, making thousands of political appointments that will extend his legacy even beyond the unprecedented 14 years he held the office. The governor frequently highlights the “Texas Miracle” on the stump. Thanks in part to an oil boom, Texas accounted for a third of all the new jobs in the country from 2003 to 2013 and is the nation’s top exporter. Though critics say Perry can’t take much credit for the economic boom, he’ll argue that the state’s low taxes and limited regulations ushered it along and persuaded some companies to relocate there.
Perry in a booking photo courtesy of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office in 2014. Perry was indicted on two felony charges of abusing power. (Photo: Travis County Sheriff’s Office/Reuters)
In speeches and at small gatherings in Iowa, Perry has also drawn a distinction between himself and other governors pondering presidential runs, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, pointing out that he’s retired and can devote his full energy to running, while they have to govern and campaign at the same time. He has also warned voters not to elect another “inexperienced” senator to the White House — taking a veiled shot at senatorial rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
On the campaign trail, Perry may have to explain his felony indictment back home, after a grand jury decided to charge the governor last year for his role in pressuring a district attorney to step down after a drunken driving charge. Perry, who is originally from the tiny West Texas town of Paint Creek, is known for playing hardball with political rivals. It remains to be seen if, this time, he can successfully translate those skills to the national stage.