If there was one word that Texas Gov. Rick Perry wanted Republican voters to remember about the tax reform plan he unveiled this morning in South Carolina it was “bold”.
“This is a change election and I will change the way Washington does business,” said Perry as he wrapped up his remarks.
Perry as bold change agent was clearly the image his campaign was hoping to convey in the speech, a marked change from the listless and at times seemingly downright uninterested figure that Perry has cut since entering the race roughly two months ago.
In some ways, Perry’s speech was an attempt to get back to the somewhat iconoclastic figure that has led Texas for the last decade and fueled his late summer rise as the strongest potential alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Perry has built his political success in the Lone Star State on saying and doing things other more mainstream politicians won’t.
The shining example of that tendency was his rapid embrace of the tea party movement during the summer of 2009 — at a time when most establishment Republican politicians were still keeping it at arm’s length (if not further away).
Perry’s willingness to float the idea of secession is also in keeping with that reputation of saying things other politicians only think.
In the campaign to date, however, Perry hasn’t shown anywhere near that sort of boldness — hedging on controversial issues like immigration as he seeks to navigate the difficult waters of a Republican primary.
It’s been businessman Herman Cain who has seized the change agent mantle from Perry, riding the appealing simplicity of his “9-9-9” economic plan to the top of national primary polling.
Today’s speech — not to mention the series of staff moves Perry made over the past 48 hours — seems to be an attempt to steal back that image from Cain while simultaneously drawing a contrast with Romney, who is a far more careful and calculating politician by nature.
Rick Perry 2.0 then is best understood as a return to the “Texas Rick Perry” — without all of the Lone Star State talk, of course. (Perry didn’t say the word “Texas” once in today’s speech.)
That Rick Perry is the one that conservative voters fell in like — if not in love — with in the runup to his formal entrance into the race in mid August.
While Perry’s first impression wasn’t a good one — and cost him the support of lots of people that ideologically should be in his camp — this new (or really old) messaging seems to be the right one.
The question for Perry is whether he has lost too much to turn things around with just 70 days remaining before the Iowa caucuses.