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Rick Perry, the Man to Beat

The first GOP presidential primary won’t take place for more than two years, but—this suddenly struck me–there’s already an unambiguous frontrunner:  Rick Perry. I reason as follows:

Item: Money. The Governor of Texas has already proven himself a master fundraiser.  It’s true that Chris Christie would have access to big money in New York while Jeb Bush would be able to tap into the network that his father and brother established. But nobody will be able to outraise Rick Perry, who will have all the money he needs and then some to fight the primary campaign.

Item: Texas. Perry will start with the support of the biggest red state in the country, a very large political fact. Chris Christie? It’s not at all clear that in a general election he could carry his home state of New Jersey. Jeb? He’s been a former governor for a good long time now. Could he carry Florida? Who knows? Could Scott Walker carry the purple state of Wisconsin? Could Bobby Jindal carry Louisiana, where his approval ratings have fallen lately?

Item: The early primaries. The Republican National Committee may adjust the schedule—it already seems certain to reduce the number of televised debates—but, for the present, it appears that the earliest primaries will take place in 2016 in the same states in which they took place the last time around. 

Iowa? Evangelicals and cultural conservatives dominate the primary process—so much so that Mike Huckabee defeated the much, much better funded Mitt Romney in 2008 and — although an accurate vote wasn’t announced until several weeks after the primary took place — Rick Santorum defeated Romney all over again in 2012. Perry will command evangelical support.  In New Hampshire, I suppose I’d make Chris Christie the favorite. 

New Hampshire primary voters tend to like wise-guy mavericks, and the same kinds of people who enabled John McCain to defeat George W. Bush in 2000 may well support Christie in 2016. But Christie will find himself dividing the libertarian vote with Rand Paul, while Perry will once again command the support of evangelicals.  His opposition to gun control will also give him a portion of the libertarian vote. It’s perfectly plausible to suppose that Perry would finish in a strong second place.

South Carolina? Perry’s a fellow southerner, a fellow true believing conservative, a fellow evangelical, and a former military man–never forget that Perry served almost five years in the U.S. Air Force. Perry’s support in South Carolina will prove so solid that other candidates might as well just give the state a miss.

images.jpgGoing into Florida, then, Perry will have won two of the first three primaries and will have plenty of money to spend in the state’s big and expensive media markets. If he wins in Florida, which he could very well do—here he’ll want to focus on the Texas record of economic growth, a record neither New Jersey, Wisconsin, nor any other state could match—then the primary process could be all but over. Yes, I’m leaving out Marco Rubio. But with his support for comprehensive immigration reform having done massive damage to his standing among conservatives—see, for example, “Marco Rubio’s Iowa Slide” by NRO’s Robert Costa—I’m starting to doubt that Rubio will even run, preferring instead to bide his time, waiting for 2020 or 2024. (Or for the vice presidential nomination. We could do worse than Perry-Rubio.)

images-1.jpgItem: Yes, it’s true. Perry’s performance during the last primary season proved bad. Really, really bad. But I’ve interviewed Perry several times since, and each time he proved relaxed, humorous, on top of the issues, and wonderfully articulate.  (Listen to Gov. Perry on a Ricochet podcast or watch him on Uncommon Knowledge.) When Perry explains that his problem last time was a lack of preparation and a bad back—he’d had serious surgery just before he began campaigning—I’m inclined to believe him. The real Rick Perry, I’m persuaded, isn’t the candidate we saw stumble and haplessly grope for words during the Republican debates last year. It’s the man who, for more than a dozen years now, has dominated the politics of the second-most populous state in the nation.

Lots can happen between now and the primaries—lots. Heck, Perry probably won’t even declare his candidacy for months. And I don’t mean to suggest that other likely candidates would prove at all deficient.  Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and, should he choose to run, Marco Rubio–each is remarkably articulate and accomplished. But winning the GOP nomination will require raising a bucket of money, capturing the support of the base as it already exists (and not as Rand Paul might hope to remake it in coming years, by adding libertarian-leaning Independents or Democrats), and building momentum in the earliest primaries.

The press may howl with derision–Rick Perry is at least as much of a Texan’s Texan as George W. Bush. But the Governor of the Lone Star State already looks a lot like the man to beat. 

  1. Frank Soto
    Peter Robinson

    Item: Yes, it’s true. Perry’s performance during the last primary season proved bad.Really, really bad. But I’ve interviewed Perry several times since, and each time he proved relaxed, humorous, on top of the issues, and wonderfully articulate.

    The question isn’t what can Rick Perry do when the kind hearted Peter Robinson interviews him.  The question is what can he do when an entirely hostile press sets out to destroy him.  My gut says he’ll give them plenty of ammunition.

  2. Mike LaRoche

    From your pen to God’s ears, Peter.  I think Rick Perry would make a fine Republican nominee for president.

  3. Joseph Paquette

    Rick Perry would make a good conservative President, but I’m afraid, that he gets hung with Bush fatigue.  Being from Texas, mannerisms, speech, etc, will make it too easy for the left.  I think he’d actually be a stronger VP candidate (but, maybe that’s the overall plan anyway.)

  4. Bob Wainwright

    Last time, everyone was waiting for him to enter the race like he would certainly go straight to the front.  Instead he sunk like a stone.  And the problem is, it wasn’t really his fault.  If it was something he could do something about, that would be one thing.  But when you have the media looking for a “Howard Dean scream” moment, you’re probably doomed from the outset.  Forgetting something and saying “woops” like he did is totally natural and shouldn’t occasion re-assessment by anyone. But now it does due to the media.   

  5. Peter Robinson
    C
    Frank Soto

    Peter Robinson

    Item: Yes, it’s true. Perry’s performance during the last primary season proved bad.Really, really bad. But I’ve interviewed Perry several times since, and each time he proved relaxed, humorous, on top of the issues, and wonderfully articulate.

    The question isn’t what can Rick Perry do when the kind hearted Peter Robinson interviews him.  The question is what can he do when an entirely hostile press sets out to destroy him.  My gut says he’ll give them plenty of ammunition. · 16 minutes ago

    Yours is a perfectly good question, Frank–really, it’s the question.  My sense is that this second time around Perry will prove both tougher and much more deft.  But there’s no way to answer that question in any definitive way through sheer analysis or speculation.  We’ll just have to see.  

    Ain’t politics grand?

  6. CandE

    I didn’t know that about his back; interesting tid-bit.  Thanks.

    Hopefully people will have forgotten his pathetic and completely uncharacteristic performance from last cycle by next cycle.  You could do a lot worse than Perry, and it’d be tough to do much better.

    -E

  7. Casey

    Peter, I think you are trying to convince yourself of something that just isn’t there. Perry, even at his best, comes off as a rube. He can’t overcome that.

  8. x

    I have no doubt that if Rick Perry is the nominee I will happily vote for him, but this post is rank speculation from stem to stern (perhaps excepting the claim that Perry will be well funded).  It is so too early to start this, and there are so many variables unaccounted for.  I wonder why you even bothered Peter.

    Really — do you know that Christie and Paul will be dividing the libertarian vote while Perry will have the evangelicals to himself?  What if Christie has a heart attack and Santorum makes another run (or any of a thousand other permutations occurs that mess up your tidy theory).

    What if Perry self destructs (again) on a gaffe? or even a scandal (nothing’s impossible)?

    What if the party just gets the sense (as happened for Obama) that somebody who’s not a white man is just be more electable (electability will be HUGE after 8 years of Obama) and Rubio (who’s got more charisma anyway) gets on a roll?

    There’s just too little clarity about where the pieces are on the chessboard, and too much distance from what will be the prevailing zeitgeist to start declaring frontrunners.

  9. Joe
    Casey: Perry, even at his best, comes off as a rube. He can’t overcome that.

    Yep, you can’t ungraduate from Texas A&M.

  10. Jager

    Perry, Paul, Walker, even Christie, this is a much deeper field, with much better choices than we had last election.

  11. Majestyk

    Perry/Walker is my ticket.  In either order.

    Make it so, #1.

  12. jarhead
    C

    It will be interesting to see what Perry’s candidacy does to the presidential aspirations of Ted Cruz, who I think will run sooner or later.  Perry is definitely running in 2016 so I don’t think Cruz will run in this round, but if Perry loses, my guess is that he’s in for 2020.

  13. BrentB67

    Mike LaRoche and I are tied for first place Rick Perry supporters. 

    I think Gov. Perry will run and do well, but I am not sure he is the front runner. He is going to have to work very hard very early to earn back the confidence from early state voters he lost when he stubbed his toe big time in the 2012 primary.

    I personally think the front runner right now is Rand Paul, but the field is going to be wide open.

  14. BrentB67
    Casey: Peter, I think you are trying to convince yourself of something that just isn’t there. Perry, even at his best, comes off as a rube. He can’t overcome that. · 24 minutes ago

    At his worst he can be perceived that way, but can you honestly say that after watching the Uncommon Knowledge interview? 

  15. jarhead
    C
    BrentB67

    Casey: Peter, I think you are trying to convince yourself of something that just isn’t there. Perry, even at his best, comes off as a rube. He can’t overcome that. · 24 minutes ago

    At his worst he can be perceived that way, but can you honestly say that after watching the Uncommon Knowledge interview?  · 0 minutes ago

    Of the electorate, how many are going to see the Uncommon Knowledge interview? 

  16. ctlaw

    I fear he will split away votes from a clean and articulate conservative and let some RINO and/or unclean/inarticulate candidate win.

  17. Majestyk
    BrentB67: I personally think the front runner right now is Rand Paul, but the field is going to be wide open. · 15 minutes ago

    As much as I like Sen. Paul – no freshmen Senators in the White House.

    We’ve seen enough of that.

    Governors only, please.

  18. Casey
    BrentB67

    Casey: Peter, I think you are trying to convince yourself of something that just isn’t there. Perry, even at his best, comes off as a rube. He can’t overcome that. · 24 minutes ago

    At his worst he can be perceived that way, but can you honestly say that after watching the Uncommon Knowledge interview?  · 11 minutes ago

    Yes, he looks and sounds like a rube no matter what he says.

  19. John Walker
    Casey

    Yes, he looks and sounds like a rube no matter what he says.

    As the longest-serving governor of the second-largest state, with a record of economic growth and job creation second to none, what would cause you to consider him a rube?

  20. Basil Fawlty
    QuickerBrownFox

    Casey: Perry, even at his best, comes off as a rube. He can’t overcome that.

    Yep, you can’t ungraduate from Texas A&M. · 1 hour ago

    Or from the Ivy League.