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July 08, 2013 4:08 PM Rick Perry: Strategic Retreat To Presidential Campaign?

By Ed Kilgore

Rick Perry took advantage of a very slow national political news day to get a lot of attention for his rather self-important speech disclosing his future political plans—or at least, as it transpired, his decision not to run for a fourth full term as governor of Texas.

While this is good news for putative GOP gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Greg Abbot, and good news for all Texans who would like to see Perry vacate the governor’s mansion as soon as possible, it does raise the strong possibility that the swaggering feminist-fighter and corporate-subsidizer-in-chief is going to consider a makeover of his disastrous 2012 presidential campaign.

This may seem ludicrous to a lot of people who only remember Perry for his big debate gaffes and the general downward trajectory of his campaign. But let’s don’t forget (as I am sure Perry himself can’t forget) how he looked immediately after his announcement for president in August of 2011: a towering figure who was very likely to crush Mitt Romney and roll to the nomination on a vast wave of money and braggadocio.

The very day he announced, the smart-money “alternative to Romney” in the presidential field, Tim Pawlenty, crashed and burned at the Iowa state GOP straw poll in Ames, leaving Michele Bachmann as the very temporary front runner in a field otherwise composed of Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum—all of them pretty much laughing-stocks to the political cognoscenti (with the least laughable, Santorum, looking like he was going nowhere fast in his plodding 99-county tour of Iowa). Perry had impeccable Christian Right credentials; Tea Party street cred from his flirtations with secessionist rhetoric; limitless Texas money; and an “economic success story” that appealed to Republican “pragmatists” worried about the party’s social-issues extremism and Romney’s record at Bain Capital. Some observers also thought his campaign team was composed of genuises, which proved to be most decidedly not the case.

It must have been hard for Perry to deal with this enormous missed opportunity, and easy for him to explain it away as the product of this or that single mistake or stroke of bad luck (or sleep deprivation). And besides, from all indications Perry has a very large ego, and understandably does not want to be remembered—along with John Connally, Lloyd Bentsen, and Phil Gramm—as yet another dismally unsuccessful Texas-based presidential candidate.

It’s not so easy to see Perry’s path to the GOP nomination in 2016. He may have to deal with an intrastate rival, Ted Cruz, who excites conservatives at home and everywhere else immensely more than the Perry. Cruz and Chris Christie can outdo Perry at macho bluster; Rand Paul has a far more devoted following; there’s no obvious “Establishment front-runner” to which Perry could pose as an alternative; and virtually everyone on the Mentioned list of 2016 candidates looks a lot smarter than the Texas governor (i.e., there’s no parade of clown-car candidates like Bachmann, Cain and Gingrich to lend Perry some comparative gravitas).

Still, nobody, not even Rick Santorum, quite has the Christian Right seal of approval as much as Perry does, which he is currently burnishing in his state legislature’s battle over his effort to shut down most of the abortion clinics in Texas. And let’s don’t forget that prior to his 2012 crash, Perry had a reputation as one of the luckiest pols in America. Maybe he figures he’s paid his dues and is now poised to resume his upward career trajectory to the very top.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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