Perry's Perfect Positioning

Perry's Perfect Positioning

By Jonathan Gurwitz - June 19, 2011

One way of looking at Rick Perry's political career is to conclude that he is extraordinarily lucky.

He first ran for and won statewide office in 1990, just as Republicans were beginning their historic takeover of Texas state government. As lieutenant governor, he was able to move into the Governor's Mansion when George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election. Now the Lone Star State's longest-serving governor, he has the potential to join a winnowing field of GOP presidential aspirants as a serious contender.

Another, better way of looking at Perry's political success is to recognize that he has an uncanny ability to position himself to take advantage of political opportunities.

Perry, after all, entered the Texas House in 1984 as a Democrat. He won reelection as a Democrat in 1986 and 1988, the same year he served as state chairman of Al Gore's presidential campaign.

Whether Perry left the Democratic Party or the Democratic Party left him, to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, is immaterial. He perceived the long term trend of rising GOP political power in Texas. He also spotted an opportunity to capitalize on that trend by running in 1990 as a Republican against a nationally recognized figure of liberal Democratic politics -- Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower.

Two decades later, Perry faced a formidable primary challenge from popular Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison, who ran a haphazard campaign, tried to shape the GOP race into a referendum on Perry's tenure: Ten years was enough. Perry recognized the rising influence of the tea party and capitalized on it by turning a gubernatorial election in Texas into a referendum on Washington.

Hutchison had the endorsement of high-profile conservatives such as Dick Cheney. Yet the Perry campaign effectively tarred Hutchison as a big government ally of Barack Obama and a prodigious porker on the Senate Appropriations Committee who championed wasteful earmarks -- earmarks that everyone in Texas, Democrats and Republicans, including Rick Perry, had for years sought, applauded and gladly accepted.

Will Rick Perry seek the GOP presidential nomination? Even at this late date, that's the wrong question to ask, and anyone who claims to know the answer is fooling themselves and the public. Perry says he's giving serious thought to entering the race. He's not being coy.

An Austin insider who works closely with Perry told me this week he doubts the governor will actually enter the race. Perry, he said, enjoys the attention on the national stage and having business and political leaders implore him to run. That favorable treatment contrasts sharply with the criticism Perry has received within Texas, and not only from liberals.

Many Texas conservatives have their own reasons to disapprove of Perry's leadership, from his disregard of private property rights in pursuit of the now defunct Trans Texas Corridor to his trampling of parental rights in his executive order -- subsequently overridden by the Texas Legislature -- to require sixth-grade girls in Texas to receive the Gardasil vaccine against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. As Perry told Neil Cavuto of Fox News this week, "The prophet is generally not loved in their [sic] hometown."

The correct question is whether Perry is positioning himself for a presidential run. And the unequivocal answer is that Perry has been doing so at least since the 2010 GOP primary.

In February 2008, Perry published his first book, "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For." It's a worthy subject, but of limited political import. In November 2010, Perry published his second book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington." Somewhere in between those two publication dates, Perry began to consider political possibilities beyond Texas.

Perry has just navigated through a session of the Texas Legislature in which he had the Republican lieutenant governor and house speaker and GOP budget writers practically begging him for permission to tap the state's rainy day fund to patch a budget shortfall rather than make even deeper cuts in spending. He presides over a Texas economy that, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas analysis, is responsible for as much as 48 percent of the jobs created in the country over the past two years.

The main issues of the 2012 presidential election are shaping up to be deficits, spending, job creation and the limited powers of government. Perry has positioned himself to take advantage of any perceived weakness in the GOP field on these issues.

Two conservative favorites, Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee, have already decided not to enter the race. Two trusted Perry aides who had gone to work for Newt Gingrich recently abandoned his sinking campaign. If a few more cosmic tumblers click into place over the next month, Perry will be hard pressed not to try to capitalize on the opportunity.

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