In 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry plunged from presidential front-runner to laughing-stock in what he now admits was a "painful" and "humbling" experience. Now, as Republicans begin looking for a standard-bearer in 2016, Perry's message is clear: Don't count me out.
Weighing a second presidential campaign, Perry said he has devoted himself to boning up on policy matters and preparing both mentally and physically to make a better impression than he did in 2012. On Thursday, he sought to demonstrate to reporters in Washington that he has the discipline and intellectual vigor to give it another go, even as he said he has not decided whether to run again.
“Preparation is the single most important lesson that I learned out of that process [in 2012], and over the last 18 months, I have focused on being substantially better prepared," Perry told reporters at a luncheon sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Perry is retiring later this year after 14 years as Texas governor, making him the longest-serving governor in the nation. But he promised that he would not "ride off into the sunset," saying he is "a patriot" and "a competitor." Regardless of whether he runs for president, Perry said he sees himself becoming an "a person of influence in some form or fashion."
"I'm getting to be a bit of an elder statesman," Perry said.
But not too elder. One reporter, noting that Perry would be 66 at the next presidential election, asked the governor whether he felt too old in a party increasingly gravitating toward a younger generation of leaders, like Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.). Perry quipped, "66 is the new 46."
"Age is substantially less important than ideas and experience," Perry said, noting that many Republicans believe President Obama was too young and inexperienced when he took office.
Perry dismissed the suggestion that Cruz, a tea party firebrand and potential 2016 presidential candidate, had overtaken him as the leading Republican figure in Texas. When one reporter asked whether Cruz had reshaped Texas politics, Perry said, "Ask me in eight years if Senator Cruz has made an impact on the state. At this particular point in time, it's a little bit early to say that a new senator would have substantially changed the state."
Perry spoke at length about energy and environmental policies. He said believes the scientific evidence showing that humans contribute to climate change remains unsettled.
"I don't believe that we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination to stop that kind of economic opportunity for this country," Perry said, a reference to building the Keystone XL pipeline and the exploration and development of domestic energy sources.
Perry briefly referenced his comments last week in San Francisco, in which he told an audience that he believes homosexuality is a behavior akin to alcoholism. He did not take back his statement, saying only, "I stepped right in it," and that the controversy he stirred with his remarks was a distraction from more serious issues.
"Whether you're gay or straight, you need to be having a job, and those are the focuses that I want to be involved with," Perry said.
Perry, whose back surgery and associated health problems slowed his 2012 candidacy, told reporters he had fully recovered.
"I'm healthy," Perry said. He detailed two changes that have helped ease his pain. First, he stopped running and began a new daily fitness regimen of sit-ups, pull-ups, crunches and time on a stationary bicycle. Second, he stopped wearing cowboy boots with an arched heel and now wears flat shoes.
From time to time, Perry said, he gets pain in his back, but he takes two Ibuprofen and the pain goes away.