They used to say, no way a Texas governor can compete for the presidency, not after George W. Bush. Then along came Rick Perry, and they started saying it again, but in a less assertive, less denigratory tone of voice; on account of how Gov. Perry has a quality about him that might….well, we’ll get to that.
We’ve got two questions here, essentially:
1) Could Perry plausibly reach out for the GOP’s presidential brass ring? Answer: Sure could.
2) Should he? Answer: I swear — speaking as a longtime Perry acquaintance and consistent Perry voter — I haven’t made up my mind. Not that my indecision appears to be stopping my governor from lapping up the media attention he’s received since communicating his newfound open-mindedness on the matter.
Rick might do it. His practiced political eye takes in the spectacle of opportunity for a principled conservative running against an overrated, especially by himself, liberal. He believes he has a story to tell — about the successful governor of a successful Southwestern state, whose ideals and principles are generally in tune with those of distressed but unwhipped-down middle America.
He didn’t tailor those ideals and principles for the occasion. I can’t recall my governor ever saying anything spectacularly different from what he says now concerning the value and virtues of limited government, the free market, love of America, and strong moral principles. Would he, for instance, promote tax increases, or pull a Weiner? To coincide, possibly, with a flying leap off the state Capitol dome. Otherwise: nope; no way. My governor seems to mean what he says — for many Republicans and independents, an immensely reassuring point.
A second strength my governor has is charisma. He’s tall, lean, and good-looking. And very, very male, in case you were wondering. He makes a good speech. Sometimes he drives the media a little goofy — which is something I like. Take what a CNN reporter calls his “infamous 2009 suggestion that Texas might secede…” Infamous, my hind foot. I will say this slowly, for the benefit of liberal mediacrats whose brain cells freeze up whenever they listen to Texas conservatives: The. Governor. Was. Being. Funny. Only Jon Stewart and what’s his name — the Minnesota senator — seem anymore to enjoy liberal permission to attempt humor. However often you read that Perry once threatened to take Texas out of the Union, put it down to classic liberal humorlessness.
Anyway Rick doesn’t back down or shy away. That’s another thing people like. I don’t say that in a national campaign the media might not manage to wring out of him some restatement of intent due to some off-the-cuff remark or other. I do contend he’d give as good as he got: while smiling, unlike a Democratic president we could name.
So, yes, he’d be a good candidate. Would he be the best candidate for conservatives? I’m not there yet, I confess.
We need not take the Bush-liability thing with profound gravity, it seems to me. For one thing, George W. Bush hasn’t looked better in a couple of years than he looks right now, against the backdrop of deepening national lugubriousness. The New York Times‘ Matt Bai speculates that if Perry ran, “What the country would probably see is another Texas governor with the same Texan talk and Texan swagger” as Bush. I’m hornswoggled, after a lifetime in the state, if I understand what that Texan “talk” and “swagger” stuff means, though the New York Times will doubtless inform us when Pinch Sulzberger judges the time to be ripe. The salient point is that during rescue missions — e.g., the 2012 presidential campaign — the disposition of lifeboat passengers to parse the native accent of the Coast Guard captain is generally small.
A larger obstacle than “Texas” to Perry’s aspirations is that the Governor’s style — critical, a little combative — may not prove as right for the moment as a style that says, calm down, I can fix this thing, give me a chance. That’s the Mitch Daniels style, not the Perry style. True, Daniels isn’t running. All that I mean is, people who want their problems fixed — the economy reinvigorated, the national spirit revived — may want to be sure that behind the vigorous calls to action is the real prospect of action.
Texas, I say, is a successful state, having created 37 percent of the nation’s new jobs since the recovery (or whatever it is) got under way. But the formula for Texas’s success is complex — a combination of mineral resources, geographical diversity, easy access to the world, a large population, and a huge reservoir of, well, animal spirits, free and robust.
A Texas governor — and our governors, constitutionally speaking, are considered weak — doesn’t so much shape events as take the good things he finds and make them a little better, according to fixed principles. Which is what Rick Perry has done, generally speaking. Our longest-serving governor has been a very good one, it seems to me. Not perfect: good, which is good enough for most of us. Would his persona and policies travel well, from Atlantic to Pacific? That’s the question. It will just have to hang in the air a while longer, I’m afraid.
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