It’s hard to imagine a presidential campaign that began with as much excitement, money and hope — and ended as quickly and dramatically — as Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s primary bid did three years ago.
Initially touted as an unbeatable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, Perry quickly proved woefully unprepared for the national spotlight. A series of blunders led the dismantling of his campaign in the first weeks of the 2012 primary contests.
Today, no one is more aware of this than Perry himself.
“It was painful. It was very humbling,” Perry said during a luncheon sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “Being prepared both physically and mentally is very important. ... There’s a host of areas which I was ill-prepared to stand up in front of people outside the state of Texas and say, ‘Choose me as your leader.’”
In the years since leaving the race, Perry has sought to push back against the impression he left during the campaign, a time when he was suffering from severe pain due to sciatica. As Perry wraps up his tenure as governor, the four-term state executive is taking active steps to ensure the future won’t be a repeat of the past if he decides to he make a second run for presidency.
“Over the last 18 months, I have focused on being substantially better prepared,” Perry said. “Please don’t take that as an indication that I’ve made a decision on whether I’m going to run for the presidency here or not. But if I do next year make that decision, I will be prepared.”
Perry insists that his physical troubles are behind him. He underwent surgery on his back that was “very successful,” he says. He has replaced his running routine with indoor cycling, combined with “core exercises” such as pullups, situps and planks. He even stopped wearing cowboy boots, which his doctor told him was part of the reason for his physical troubles. “All the distraction that was ongoing with the sciatica, that is gone,” he said. “I’m healthy.”
While Perry’s back trouble might be gone, his foot-in-mouth disease still flares up occasionally, an issue he admits he’s working on. While on a trip to San Francisco last week, Perry compared homosexuality to alcoholism when asked about the Texas Republican Party’s decision to add a plank in the platform approving of “reparative therapy,” a counseling program that aims to change gay people’s sexual orientation.
“I readily admit I stepped right in it,” Perry said about his remark. That’s the same admission he made after a 2011 presidential debate when he forgot which federal agencies he would shut down if elected president.
Perry added that Republicans tend to get distracted by social issues when they should be talking about jobs and the economy instead.
“I got asked about an issue, and instead of saying, ‘You know what, we need to be really respectful and tolerant country to everybody and whether you’re gay or straight, you need to be having a job,’” he said. “Those are the focuses that I want to be involved with.”
At the luncheon, Perry became most animated when discussing the new EPA regulations on the energy industry that require coal plants to reduce their carbon dioxide output by 30 percent over the next 16 years. Like most Republicans — and many Democrats from states that rely on the coal industry — Perry warned that the effect the regulations would have on the environment would not be worth the initial economic toll, but he went further by denying scientific evidence that carbon output has an effect on climate.
“I don’t believe that we have the settled science by any stretch of the imagination to stop that type of economic opportunity for this country,” he said, adding that he was “not a scientist.” “Short term, I’m substantially more concerned about Iran changing the temperature of New York than I am some 50 years down the road that could be played by the environmental choices that are made in the United States.”
Regardless of whether he chooses to run next year, Perry said he still plans to stay in the political arena after he moves out of the governor’s mansion.
“I’m not going to ride off into the sunset.”