In case you thought the big division in the GOP was between moderates and conservatives or between “establishment” and hard-liners, think again. The real divide that will play out in 2016, I strongly suspect, is between executives and lawmakers. Consider this Washington Times report on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s trip to Israel:
Mr. Perry, who arrived in Israel after visiting London for a plaque dedication, told The Washington Times in a phone interview from Jerusalem that the government shutdown was “political theater” that wasn’t casting a pall over his trip abroad. Not one British or Israeli government official has mentioned Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as the party’s face or complained that the U.S. suffered a black eye as a result of the 17-day government shutdown, he said.
“The United States’ reputation in Israel wasn’t affected by the shutdown, because the Israelis understand that from time to time politicians in a democracy engage in political theater, which is what the shutdown was,” he said. . . . Asked whether government officials and Perry admirers in London or Jerusalem had talked about Mr. Cruz being what the Democrats say he has become — the face of America and of the GOP — after his role in the shutdown, Mr. Perry said, “No one has come up to me and even said the word ‘Cruz’ — no, not once did I hear that.”
“Take that, Mr. Junior Senator,” was the message. But aside from a shot at a potential rival for the GOP presidential nomination, the comments suggest how 2016 might be different for Perry than 2012. Aside from more time for preparation and an appreciation for the rigors of the presidential primary process, Perry may choose to run as the most conservative contender who actually accomplished something. He’s not going to be painted as weak on guns or Obamacare or any other conservative agenda item. But, he may tell voters, there is fighting and then there is winning and leading.
If Perry does choose to run it may put a serious crimp in Ted Cruz’s presidential plans (if any); it is hard to imagine Texas donors, for example, following the flaky Cruz instead of a contender, who although staunchly conservative, was not reckless.
Other potential GOP challengers, especially governors, should take note. Although Perry didn’t emphasize it in 2012, he served in the military and has, for a governor, done a fair amount of traveling and demonstrated his pro-Israel credentials. Being plausible as commander in chief is a key part of any presidential race, but considering the current president’s shortcoming in this area, foreign policy may be more important than usual. Governors should develop as much expertise as possible, travel as much as they can and become comfortable discussing their views before they are under the microscope of a presidential race when their time is divided and there is less room for error. Only then can they adequately combat the anti-interventionist senators and/or make the case that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been all talk and little else when it comes to American power.
In 2012, we were reminded that running for president the second time is much, much easier than a rookie run. It is hard for governors who are big wheels in their own state to imagine the demands, exacting coverage and organizational challenges inherent in a presidential contest. Running multiple elections and mastering the job of a chief executive helps, and running previously helps even more. The 2016 contenders should not take Perry lightly.