Texas Gov. Rick Perry brought the Conservative Political Action Conference attendees to their feet with a stirring call at the conclusion of his speech: “Defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy and, what the heck, deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays . . . Get out of the health care businesses, get out of the education business. My fellow conservatives, the future of this nation is upon you! It belongs to you! You have the power to change America. . . . You are the path to the future, a light on a distant shore.”
There are a number of takeaways from the speech. First, Perry is somewhat overlooked by the media although a speech like this plainly indicates an interest in running in 2016. He’s got a coherent theme — take his red state policies that work to Washington — although he would do well to personalize them and show ordinary people how less regulation, lower taxes, etc. benefit them. But there is time for that, and this time around he’ll be able to prepare properly for the race full time when he leaves the governor’s mansion. Although he didn’t touch on it, his strong suit may be energy (today’s poll in The Post shows the overwhelming support for the Keystone XL pipeline), on which he is quite expert. In emphasizing the connection between the lagging economy and the Democrats’ uber-deference to the Greens, he would score points with the right and add an effective element to his pro-growth message.
Like every other major speaker, Perry has signaled support for a strong national defense. (“How can we appease a Syrian tyrant and appease his Russian ally without the bill ever coming due?”) There is remarkable agreement on an anti-Obama foreign policy, which means a United States that leads in the world.
He also made a cogent point about the fiscal battles in Washington. He chided the federal government for allowing a credit downgrade as politicians fought over “a few billion in spending cuts” while “our debt has soared by trillions.” He is right, of course, and suggests an argument over realigning priorities, away from slashing defense and in favor of some real entitlement reform, where those trillions are being spent.
His tone showed some refreshing playfulness. With a smile and a bounce in his step he appeared, unlike some 2016 competitors, to have adopted the happy warrior persona. The GOP these days strays too far into gloom and doom mode, and its “stars” seem to think anger is the principle emotion for governance.
Any finally, Perry poses a real challenge to fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz — in fundraising, in his record and in his more folksy style — and maybe even more so to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Why do evangelicals and other social conservatives need to settle for Paul when they get the defense of limited government plus a strong national defense and full-throated support for their values? Unlike both of them, Perry has the advantage of having run before, having concrete achievements and having been outside the vortex of D.C. dysfunction. It is noteworthy that he criticized the shutdown, which both of them championed. No one is going to out-conservative him, yet he can make the case that conservatism and good governance are not mutually exclusive.
Perry knows all too well he bombed last time, but he may also be determined to restore his reputation. That’s a powerful incentive for him to work hard, prepare thoroughly, refine his message and take his Texas experience as a model for how he can help real people (not just “lower regulation” or other economic nostrums). If he does all that, he’ll make the race more lively and certainly more interesting.