Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is about to take the plunge into the presidential race. There are, as with any candidate who’s not well known on the national stage, multiple questions. Can he debate? Does he have some policy chops? Does he have answers to inevitable questions about missteps as governor?
He tried to address some of those head-on in an interview with Time’s Mark Halperin. That in and of itself is an interesting choice. He didn’t kick off with Fox or with a talk radio host; he is trying to, from the get-go, begin to shape an image for the national media and the general electorate. That shows some confidence (he can win the base) and some recognition that his electability is a legitimate concern for primary voters.
Three things struck me about the interview. First, he was crystal-clear and bold on national security:
The idea that the President would make this statement about going back to the ’67 borders sent a chill down all of my friends’ back and certainly mine. Israel is our friend. Israel is a democracy in the middle of a part of the world where having a democracy is really important. Our friends, if I am blessed to become the President of the United States, will know that we will be there day in and day out. I think the most important thing that we can do from a foreign policy standpoint is to be strong economically. Because if we’re not strong economically, we cannot have the resources to be strong militarily. And if we’re not strong militarily then our foreign policy becomes haphazard at best, because countries look at the United States and go, “Well we’ll do what we please because you don’t have the for with all to sent a message that we’re going to be strong militarily.
Plainly he’s not going the neo-isolationist road. If Tim Pawlenty (arguably the most hawkish of the current contenders) falters, Perry will, if he deepens his understanding and fills out an agenda, be in a strong position to attack President Obama on national security. And, to the extent that other GOP contenders hesitate or equivocate on issues such as Afghanistan, Perry can capitalize.
Second, he made clear he’s not going to run an outwardly anti-Bush campaign. The rivalry between the Perry and Bush camps is well known, and at times Perry has explicitly criticized George H.W. Bush . (“Bush, or ‘George,’ as Perry called him, was no fiscal conservative — ‘never was’ — and his work on tort reform, a subject dear to Republican hearts, paled next to Perry’s achievements, the governor said.”) But in his Time interview Perry suggested he’s not going to advance his cause by stoking anti-Bush animus in some ranks of the GOP. “If there are people that were on his team [in] the past that haven’t agreed on policy or picked a different horse in a political race—you look back over my political career, and if I chastised and removed everyone who’s been on the other side of me in a political race I wouldn’t have any friends or helpers.” That’s a frank admission that he can’t afford to pick intra-party fights.
And finally, Perry, as his advisers have privately suggested, seems ready for a hard pivot to economic issues. Asked about his appeal beyond social conservatives he answered:
Texas is somewhat of a microcosm of the rest of the country, particularly in this first decade of the 21st century. We are very, very cosmopolitan, if you will, very urban, but we have our rural areas. We have an incredible diversity of people [who] live in this state. This is not the Texas of my father. It is a very diverse state. Running for the governorship of the state of Texas, I recognized all the diversity of thought.
So, what’s the most important thing that’s facing this country? It’s getting this economy back. I am a pro-business governor. I will be a pro-business President if this does, in fact, ensue and I’m blessed to be elected President of the United States — unabashedly [so] because the fact of the matter is, there’s nothing more important than having an environment created by government that allows for the private sector to risk its capital to know that they have a good chance of having a return on the investment.
And in defending his past support for pro-choice Rudy Giuliani, he said:
Mayor Giuliani did a wonderful job of managing a city. He was very strong militarily. He was as strong on crime as any big city Mayor has ever been. He and I were 180 degrees on social issues, but he would put strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, which dealt with those social issues. I happen to be comfortable that I was making the right decisions and that as President, when it comes to those social issues, it’s very important to have that strict constructionist view of who you put on the Supreme Court. Because they’d look at the Constitution and say, you know what, that issue dealing with abortion is not in the Constitution. We will put it back to the states. Now if the states want to pass an amendment and three quarters of the states want to pass an amendment to make this be a change of our United States Constitution, then just follow that process. And I’m a big believer that that’s how our country should work.
It’ not exactly clear from this whether he’d be content to leave abortion to the states, but it is his most articulate statement on the issue to date.
Beginning Saturday the bright, hot light of the national media and the other campaigns will begin to scrutinize, investigate and criticize every utterance and item in his record. If he can withstand that, there’s certainly room for him to rise to the top of the pack. But, there is also the distinct possibility that the best day of his campaign will be the first. Unless he is serious, prepared, humble enough to take guidance and able to quickly recover from inevitable missteps, that will certainly be the case.