By Elvin Lim
A lackluster field of Republican candidates for president will receive a significant jolt if Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, decides to throw his hat in the ring. There is significant buzz now to take this possibility seriously.
The big story about Newt Gingrich’s campaign implosion wasn’t that 16 of his staff members walked out; it is that that two of them, Dave Carney and Rob Johnson (who managed Perry’s last campaign when Perry beat Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison by over 20 percentage points in the Republican primary), are longtime aides to the Governor who are now free to offer their services to him. I doubt it is mere coincidence that only a week before, Rick Perry ended years of denial and was reported to have said about running in 2012, “I’m gonna to think about it.”
Perry would be a formidable candidate if he got in. For one, he has never lost an election in his life and if he comes in, it means he’s done the math. Governors from big states already start off with an advantage because they can carry their state’s electoral college votes with them, and Republican governors from Texas are especially advantaged because Texas is the biggest fundraising state for the party. An earlier favorite of the Tea Party, Perry would be able to articulate an authentic voice against big government and capture those votes originally reserved for the more colorful spokespersons of the movement whom we all know would not, in the end, actually run. (A Perry run would also conclusively kill all remaining speculation about whether or not there would be a Palin run, as they’re both courting the same crowd.) As a third term governor, Perry would be able to speak with more executive experience and more authority against “beltway” insiders than the other governors in the declared field, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. Texas’ job creation record in the last year has also been nothing short of astounding, making it home to 37 percent of the nation’s newly created jobs since the recession ended, and you can bet Perry would take the credit for it if he runs. Finally, Perry will benefit from his well-known rivalry with George Bush, while his fiscal fundamentalism and his secessionist sympathies would inoculate him from ties to the party establishment. For a Republican party yearning, after the Bush years, to return to original principles, Rick Perry is as authentic as it gets.
The Republican field is, to use Bill O’Reilly’s caption for Tim Pawlenty, “vanilla” enough that there is tremendous hunger for a candidate with as much stylistic oomph — never-mind the substance — that could match the party’s distaste for President Obama. (Witness the initial surge of interest in Herman Cain.) With no commanding frontrunner this late in the game, Perry has read the tea leaves and he is tempted. And the best way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears here each week.