Candidates over the course of a campaign, or multiple campaigns, can either stagnate — recycling talking points, never reflecting on or refining their own views — or grow. The liberal media like to define “grow” as becoming more liberal, but we have seen two candidates become much better versions of themselves, able to communicate what they feel and who they are while showing mastery of subject matter.

No one has done this more than former Texas governor Rick Perry. In a brief interview with Mark Halperin, which most accurately captures the Perry I have met and interviewed, we see a more relaxed, engaging person and one certainly evidencing more sophistication about issues.

His ability to push back on a question assuming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had flip-flopped on the two-state solution was evidence he is now thoroughly familiar with and comfortable talking about foreign policy, which may be the most critical issue in 2016. And his reference to his Air Force service — in particular, his understanding of the experience of military families and his own experience with hollowing out the military — effectively conveys his personal affection for and comfort with the military, something no other candidate can claim.

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Needless to say, we saw none of this in 2012. Now Perry makes an effective case: This is a conservative who has done a lot and is prepared to be commander in chief.

A month or so ago, there were legitimate questions as to whether Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was up to speed on foreign policy and could project the gravitas we expect of presidential nominees. In an interview with Hugh Hewitt, he seemed a far cry from the candidate at CPAC. His answer on the Taliban trade and news of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s desertion charge was solid. (“When I think about this desertion charge, the thing that gets me the most frustrated is this administration gave up five Taliban, five Taliban for this guy, and I can’t, I mean, logic tells you all this information that they’re bringing against the sergeant now isn’t something that just happened since then. This is stuff they knew about when they put American soldiers’ lives at risk to try and rescue him. And they gave up five Taliban leaders in return for a guy who now is going to be charged.”) Likewise, he explained why he prefers the term “safety” and gave an apt overview of what is happening in the Middle East:

Safety is something you feel inside your chest, you feel in your heart. And I think increasingly, Americans feel a sense of concern that particularly if they have family members or loved ones that ever want to travel again, they see France, they see Canada, they see other places around the world, not just the Middle East, and it’s a safety issue. And they, and then I would just add to this, as they look at this more closely, they see a president who’s drawn a line in the sand and crossed it, who called ISIS just a year ago the jayvee squad, who called Yemen last fall a success story, who calls Iran now a place where we can do business. Think about how screwed up that is. I remember the movie in the ’80s, “Trading Places” . . . you know, with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, it’s like Iran and Israel are trading places in the sequel. In the eyes of this president, our ally is supposed to be Israel. Our adversary has been historically Iran. And yet this administration completely does it the other way around. We need to call radical Islamic terrorism for what it is, and a commander-in-chief who’s willing to act.

His has no trouble saying he would “absolutely” walk away from a faulty Iran deal.

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And on the military, he seemed to have a level of detail we’ve not seen before: “Not only do we need to make sure that we invest in the Ohio Class submarines, nuclear, that gives us, that’s you know, one part of our nuclear triad, and it’s probably the most important part. We’ve got bombers that are getting old, we’ve got intercontinental ballistic missiles. But in the larger context, we’ve got a Navy that’s about, headed towards about half the size as it was under Reagan. We need to reinvest in that. And that’s why I push and support going forward the Gates level funding as a minimum, and we need to make sure that instead of heading down to 250 vessels, we probably need to be at 325 to maybe 340, 346 at some point in the future, under a new commander-in-chief.”

He, too, made a persuasive argument as to why his background prepares him for the presidency: “When you’re a governor, you’re a mayor, you’re a county executive wherever you’re at, and when you have a cabinet and you have to act on behalf of not just the people who elected you, but the whole group, the whole constituency as we talked about a little bit at lunch. You’ve got to lead, and you’ve got to listen to people who hopefully are smart or smarter than you are on any given topic. You ultimately have to make the decision. This president, unfortunately, having been a senator, a state Senate, and community organizer, never led anything. And so he’s never been in a position to make those sorts of judgments. And so we’ve seen time and time again, they’re just faulty decisions, which would be one thing if it was something off on the side. But this is affecting not only American policy and American lives, but people around the world.”

So there you have two candidates, different in age and life experience but serious men, thoughtful on foreign policy and credible as the next chief executive and commander in chief. They did not emerge as presidential-ready candidates overnight, but they are showing respect for the office and the voters and displaying self-discipline and tenacity in making sure they are ready to serve. The GOP could do a lot worse than these two. Other candidates should see how they are impressing voters and making the argument for mature, proven leaders.

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