In late October, Texas Gov. Rick Perry went to Israel, not a surprising trip for a potential presidential candidate whose pro-Zionist views are well known. However, less widely known is his role in a breakthrough of sorts in academia and U.S.-Israeli relations.
Texas A&M University will open a branch in Nazareth by October 2015 . . . The new institution, to be called the Peace Campus, will promote coexistence for the sake of education with a student population combining Arab, Jewish and foreign students. The faculty will be drawn from Arab, Jewish and international scholars. . . . The new school will offer undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs in a wide range of academic disciplines and its construction will be entirely funded by “private donations secured throughout the world,” according to Texas A&M.
Prof. John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University told The Jerusalem Post this week that he had long been interested in establishing a relationship between his school and Israel and was “very excited” to have reached the agreement.
Sharp and his wife helped to raise money for underprivileged Russian Jewish children to immigrate to Israel in the early 1990s, after hearing a rabbi talk about the issue in a radio broadcast from Chicago.
Perry and Sharp (a Democrat), both Christian Zionists, met when both were undergraduates at Texas A&M.
On one level, the story — as a longtime Democrat and official in a pro-Israel Jewish organization told me — is a reminder of the deep bonds between the heartland of America, especially among evangelical Christians, and the Jewish state. NYU didn’t set up an Israeli campus; Texas A &M did. In Texas, as in so many other places in the United States, the idea of divesting in, boycotting or condemning the Jewish state, our best and arguably only stable ally in the region, is anathema. Unlike the liberal sophisticates who in the last decade or so have made reputations and a pretty penny by peddling anti-Israel tropes, Americans to a greater degree than ever before identify with and support Israel, both for religious reasons and in recognition of our common defense against Islamic jihadists.
Perry’s role in this also points to a domestic political reality. Perry, it is no secret, did poorly in 2012, embarrassing himself in a series of horrid debate performances. He went from arguably the most accomplished and certainly the longest-serving GOP governor in the country to a punch line. He knows that. He is obviously a competitive man. And, for that reason, one can surmise he is out to repair his image, secure his legacy and vindicate his political reputation. He is rarely mentioned in the top tier of contenders for 2016, but it seems very likely, especially since he announced he won’t run for reelection, that he’d try another run. It’s not as quixotic as it might appear.
For starters, it is infinitely easier to run for president the second time. Ronald Reagan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mitt Romney all won the nomination on their second outing. Romney in 2012 acknowledged he hugely benefited from having done this once before. Even for a governor who is an experienced campaigner and covered closely by the media, the presidential nominating process is daunting. The white-hot media glare, array of tasks (from debates to fundraising), strategic complexity and the sheer stamina needed are unlike any effort most candidates have every experienced. And for Perry, who had little lead time and reportedly suffered from post-operative back pain, it was something of a horror show.
This time he has the luxury of preparation and a greater appreciation for the demands of a presidential campaign. Consider also that the right-wing lacks a credible champion with a proven record of governance. Let’s get real: Neither Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have accomplished a darn thing, and in championing bad causes (e.g. the shutdown) they’ve shown an appalling lack of judgment. They may run, but I suspect it will resemble Perry’s 2012 campaign. So why not Perry for these ultra-conservatives? He’s more than conservative. He’s actually done something. He is a 10th-Amendment defender, which these days gives him room to maneuver on gay rights and drug legalization (thereby pleasing libertarians). Frankly, Perry 2.0 is a whole lot more credible than Cruz or Paul.