“I was a bit arrogant” in 2012, Perry said in an interview at the Republican Governors Association meeting here in Florida, as he looked both back and ahead. His arrogance, he said, stemmed from his belief that, as a sitting governor from one of the nation’s most populous states, he could “step into that role of candidate and stand up in front of the American people…I was mistaken.”
He has spent, by his own admission, most of the past two-plus years paying penance and doing due diligence, trying to undo the damage from his 2012 campaign. His candidacy is now encapsulated by his famous utterance — “oops” — after he could not remember the third of three federal agencies that he would eliminate if he became president.
“It’s never going to go away,” he said of impressions of his failed candidacy. “It’s always there, just as Bill Clinton’s 1988 [long-winded Democratic] convention speech is always there. It’s always part of your past. I’m a big believer that Americans…are interested in how do you perform after you’ve been knocked down.”
Perry’s schedule since has been a combination of looking after his state as he winds down his governorship and doing the homework necessary to give him the knowledge and confidence to run again. “I’ve spent the last 22 months in preparation,” he said.
He’s met with policy experts in Washington and the West Coast and elsewhere, has sat and talked with former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George Schultz. He’s taken foreign trips. He’s taken on President Obama over border security and Democratic governors over whose model — conservative or liberal — is better. There will be more such preparation ahead.
“I’m comfortable I’m substantially more prepared to run for the presidency,” he said. “I know the challenges. And so, again, I’m not ready to pull the trigger and say I’m in, but I’m comfortable that the process I’ve put in place here is a proper, timely and thoughtful process.”
Asked whether he had any questions at this point about whether he was ready to run or whether he should run, he said, “I do not have any questions about either… The decision [about running] may be no, but it will not be a no because I’m not prepared.”
Perry said he looks back on his 14 years in the governor’s office with considerable pride. Texas, he said, has become recognized for the strength of its economy in ways it wasn’t even a few years ago. “We have penetrated through the national psyche that Texas economically is a very powerful place,” he said.
The governor said that less well known about the Texas he leaves behind is what he called “the explosion of the cultural arts that has occurred over the last decade.” From art museums to performing arts centers, he said, Texas has dramatically expanded.
Those changes, he said, have changed the reputation of Texas from “an intellectual and cultural backwater to a place that is very much on everyone’s radar screen on where would be a good place for us to either relocate or expand.”
Perry said his calling cards if he runs again would be competence and experience, which he said Americans are more likely to find in a governor than in “another relatively young, inexperienced United States senator or a congressman for that matter.”
At a meeting where he is surrounded by other potential presidential candidates, Perry said there were any number of capable individuals who could enter the race. Asked specifically about one who is not here, former governor Jeb Bush, he said, “Until a candidate says ‘I am running,’ I think to speculate about how they would perform is a bit premature. I’m not going to get drug [sic] into analyzing this myriad of people who may or may not run.”
Having spared with Obama over immigration for years, Perry was sharply critical of the president’s pending decision to use executive action expected to relieve millions of illegal immigrations from the threat of deportation.
“It is unconstitutional. It is unlawful,” he said. "It is bad public policy and the American people are not for it.” He urged Congress to respond by putting specific pieces of legislation on Obama’s desk, including a strong border security measure, and let the president explain if he vetoes.
Should the threat of impeachment, which some conservatives have talked about, be part of the GOP response? “No,” he said. “I think the American people want to see government work…I don’t think the vast majority of people see impeachment as government working. That is a last ditch effort to stick a finger in the eye of the president.”