If Gov. Rick Perry gets a second chance to make a first impression, then he could be a serious candidate for president in 2016. Time will tell if he seeks another opportunity to wow the GOP base in Iowa and South Carolina like he rocked the house at CPAC last week – as seen by the Drudge Report headlines highlighting his performance.
National media elites love to ridicule the Lone Star State’s governor. His Evangelical Christian faith, gun-toting jogging, avid hunting, open reverence for the Tenth Amendment and defiance of Washington, modest upbringing, and deep Southern drawl are like fingernails on a chalkboard to some blue-bloods from the Ivy League.
In 2012, Perry himself gave these elites all the ammunition they needed to shred him when he jumped into the race at the last minute without anywhere near adequate preparation and recovering from major back surgery. This combination resulted in two disastrous moments in the first televised debates in which he squared off against his very well-practiced competition. Although he righted his ship with a savvy national team after those performances, the damage proved fatal, as conservative support collapsed and national talking heads (and comedians) piled on. His campaign never recovered.
Yet Perry is one of the longest-serving governors in America, leading the second-largest state where business is booming. He may have access to an enormous war chest, especially if Florida’s Jeb Bush doesn’t run, and he leaves office after 2014.
If he develops a polished narrative and amasses top-tier resources (maybe $25 million or so before Iowa), then with his lengthy conservative record (with only one or two blemishes over the course of a decade and a half), his military service (which is no longer common among presidential candidates), and his being able to spend two full years on the campaign trail, he may turn out to be in 2016 what many conservatives were hoping he would be in 2012. That’s a lot of “ifs,” but stranger things have happened in American politics when you have such an otherwise-formidable candidate with a record of being able to throw heavy punches.
He grabbed the crowd at CPAC right out of the gate with his opening lines:
I am reminded this morning of words that speak to the American soul… words spoken by Thomas Jefferson, who said “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
My friends, our country is in peril. Our debt is at record amounts. Our economic recovery is stagnant. Our place in the world is weakened. So I have a simple suggestion: It is time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas.
He went straight to federalism, signaling the brand of rebellion around which he would structure a presidential campaign. He said instead of looking to Washington for answers, voters should “look to the states, where we find laboratories of innovation, and 50 different experiments in democracy taking place.”
He added that the blue states now look markedly different from the red states. In the former, “taxes are on the rise, pension programs are out of control, and jobs are leaving by the truckloads.” Contrast that with red states, “where the freedom of the individual comes first and the reach of government is limited,” states where “taxes are low, spending is under control, jobs are on the rise, and opportunity is being sought far and wide.”
Perry praised several Republican governors by name. It was surely no accident that two of them are from early primary states and two were from major general-election swing states. He summed up his philosophy and theirs as “conservative governors who know the freedom of the individual must come before the power of the state.”
He then contrasted Texas’s record under his leadership with that of the other two largest states in the nation, California and New York. He talked about his cutting taxes, spending less than incoming revenues, enacting tort reform to rein in trial lawyers, and the fact that of all jobs created nationwide, 30 percent were created in Texas.
The governor predicted that America’s future will be determined by which of these two philosophies – red state or blue state – wins out, warning that “America cannot sustain its current fiscal course.” He asked, “How can the greatest nation on earth continue to spend its way to astounding debt without the bill ever coming due? How can we explode federal and state budgets with unreformed entitlement programs without the bill ever coming due?”
Perry pivoted from jobs and spending to the Supreme Law of the Land, saying the road back to success “starts by returning to the founding principles of our democracy found in the Constitution.” He listed several of the enumerated powers the Constitution gives the federal government, such as raising the military and regulating interstate commerce.
“But nowhere does the Constitution declare we can federalize classrooms,” he stated. “Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress shall nationalize healthcare.”
He then took on both Republicans and Democrats in a way that conservatives eat up: “It is inherent in human nature once given power to never give it back. And let me tell you something: this human tendency is a bipartisan offense.”
Perry gave as his bottom line:
It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role – defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and deliver the mail. And get out of the healthcare business, get out of the education business, stop hammering industry, and let the sleeping giant of American enterprise create prosperity again.
If Gov. Perry decides to run and performs in Iowa and South Carolina like he performed at CPAC, then he will be a force to the reckoned with.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.