Former Texas governor Rick Perry looks out the window of his press interview room at the snow falling outside the convention center in National Harbor, Md., that is hosting the Conservative Political Action Conference. He says he’d prefer rain, noting, “People say, ‘Don’t rain, it’ll ruin my golf. But we farmers like rain. In fact, rain changed by life.” Looking fit and trim, Perry hearkened back to the 1970s. “In 1977, I moved back home from the Air Force,” he tells me, bringing up an aspect of his background no other potential 2016 contender has (military service). “I’d been all over the world between 1974 and 1977. … I lived in Saudi Arabia for six weeks in 1975. I really had a maturation process when I saw the connection between how people lived and their government.” Continuing with his story, he recounts that in 1977 a drought struck Texas and his family’s cotton farm was afflicted. “I told my dad, ‘I love you, but I don’t see this working out.’ ” He got an interview in September 1978 for a job as a pilot with Southwest Airlines. “Aug. 4, 1978, it rained 30 inches. I was a 100-year event. . . biblical proportions!” he says with a grin. He never showed up at Southwest Airlines and returned to the farm. If not for the rain, he’d be a veteran pilot, not a potential presidential candidate.

Perry certainly knows how to tell a story, but unlike during his 2012 presidential run, he also has substantial knowledge, a high comfort level and something to say on foreign policy. Beginning with the Obama administration’s handling of Iran, he says, lips pursed and brow furrowed, “I really don’t understand what their goal is.” He decries the president for being “blinded” by a desire for a deal and willing to give everything away at the negotiating table. “It is incredibly dangerous to Israel. It is damaging to our allies around the world who figure if they [the Obama team] will throw Israel under the bus, what about us?” He says flat out that if a deal of the kind described in the press comes to pass and is not approved by Congress, “I would tell them there is no deal.” He pauses as if this is self-evident. “And then I’d go to work to repair our relationships with our allies.” He says, “The president has spent way too much time apologizing for America … We need a president who is willing to say America is unique in the world.”

He talks at length about his executive experience, recalling that when Ebola reached Texas, he knew the people he had hired and what expertise they had, and he put them out front and relied on them to pass medical protocols that were adopted by others. “The president took an exceedingly long time to name someone [as Ebola czar], and when he did it was a political hack, the vice president’s former chief of staff. This was a medical issue, and it was a management issue — management of expectations, management of competence … The president never had these experiences to fall back on.” He continues, “When you step on an airplane, do you want a 20,000-hour, grizzled pilot, or do you want someone who gives a great lecture on aerodynamics?” He reiterates, “I don’t think after eight years of this young senator, the American people are going to select someone with that background.”

He also makes the case that through his military experience and a number of years of study and travel, he doesn’t need to cram at the last minute to sound serious in a debate. “I tried that once,” he says ruefully.”I won’t comment on anyone else’s absorption rate. But from my own experience, I can say you need to surround yourself with the very best experts and it needs considerable time.” He cautions that if candidates don’t do this, “You’ll be exposed at some point as not having the depth of knowledge.” He concedes that many adults may not be all that interested in foreign policy or have definite views. “But they are not running for president of the United States,” he says simply.

He points to his ability to converse freely on foreign policy during his visits to London and Poland — a dig at others who have slipped up on their travels or declined to comment. (He spells out what his approach to Russia would be — sanctions should go forward, we should “flood Europe with LNG” and should move naval and air assets to show solidarity with our NATO allies.) “Voters want to see a depth of knowledge, hear the crises delineated and pointed positions,” he warns, practically daring contenders to show what they’ve got. When he talks to voters, he says, “Foreign policy is at the top of their list. When you see a Jordanian pilot burned alive and Coptic Christians slaughtered on the beach, when you see malls are targeted, when you see three kids are arrested [about to travel to Syria to join jihadis], they say, ‘This is way too close to home.’ … They are begging for leadership and a reason to be optimistic.”

He notes that voters have “not forgotten about the economic malaise. Having a strong economy is central to having a strong foreign policy. Do you know we have 100,000 fewer personnel? In the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force, we are not prepared at the level we should be. We can’t do that [repair the military] if you are broke.” He digresses to castigate the president for vetoing the Keystone XL pipeline. “I said,’I can’t believe he will veto the bill.’ But he did. He hasn’t had to explain his decision. He needs to look in the eyes of an Illinois family and tell them why they aren’t getting the jobs. This is nothing more than placating a tiny slice of the voters.”

And Perry is not afraid of ripping the bark off the likely Democratic nominee. On the issue of Hillary Clinton’s foundation taking donations from foreign countries even while she was in office, he says, “The question needs to be answered whether you can legally take the money. There’s the legality. But on the question of common sense, she fails.” He says merely promising you won’t take money in the future is not sufficient. “I don’t think the American people will accept that.” He concedes that the left will probably rally her around Clinton, which appears to be just fine with Perry. He is ready for the presidential “marathon,” as he describes it. His opponents need to make certain they are up to speed — especially on national security.