Over the past two weeks, one Republican has gained more national attention than any other: Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX).
He has been everywhere – appearing on network interviews, headlining Sunday shows, touring the southern border with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, appearing on The Blaze with Glenn Beck. Thursday he told Beck that the state may act to secure the southern border unilaterally soon – without the federal government.
Perry had penned national op-eds on border security in The Wall Street Journal and The USA Today.
Last week, Gov. Perry greeted President Obama on the tarmac, met with him in Dallas, and spent the next day on the southern border–a marked contrast with President Obama who spent the day at fundraisers and excoriating Republicans at a partisan speech in downtown Austin.
How did Gov. Perry fully seize this opportunity?
It began a few weeks ago, on July 3 when House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) held a field hearing on the border in McAllen, with Gov. Perry providing witness testimony which dominated the hearing.
When it comes to border security, Gov. Perry knows what he is talking about, after serving as Governor of Texas longer than FDR was president.
In fact, several months ago, the state of Texas began a $1.3 million per week border security surge through the rest of 2014. According to Gov. Perry, the state has spent over $500 million since 2005 on increased border protection and efforts to fight gangs and drug cartels.
Perry has surged by making three smart demands.
First, he cleverly pressured President Obama into a meeting with him while he was in Texas, by refusing to accept a perfuctory and patronizing White House offer of a 30-second handshake at the airport. Perry refused, asking instead for a “thoughtful policy discussion.” The White House caved and reluctantly agreed to the meeting.
Second, he asked President Obama to visit the border while he was in Texas. The White House stubbornly refused and that question dominated the national media discussion that entire week. Even Democrats like Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) went public, criticizing President Obama for not visiting the border. The result was the White House being on defense all week.
To put as fine a point on it as possible, Gov. Perry spent the day after his meeting with Obama on the border, receiving a briefing from border patrol officials and touring the border by boat and helicopter, with Fox News and radio host Sean Hannity in tow. The effect was a split screen comparison bettwen Perry, on the border, seeing it firsthand, acting as an executive, and Obama, engaging in a partisan attack in a speech on the economy and conducting photo ops at a coffee shop and a barbcue restaurant in Austin.
Third, Gov. Perry requested 1,000 National Guard troops to be temporarily deployed to the southern border to send a strong message to Central American countries and help the border patrol with the influx of illegal immigrants pouring into the country. President Obama has not explicitly agreed to this request. He appears to want to trade this for his supplemental appropriations request, which Congress is currently considering.
Good policy makes good politics, and Gov. Perry is not letting this opportunity go to waste. He is using this national story to collect data and engage the grassroots – an online petition on border security that he created now has over 90,000 signatures in less than a week. The political benefit to Gov. Perry will likely last.
He has successfully re-positioned himself as the leading GOP voice on border security – valuable political real estate in the Republican Party. Border security issues will remain on the front burner through the 2014 election and likely through the 2016 election. Gov. Perry has aligned his national leadership on an issue for which he has expertise and knowledge, with his own executive record that he can reference. While Senators may talk about votes on immigration and border security, Gov. Perry can detail what he has actually done.
He is on the front lines in this crisis, at a time when few Republicans in Washington have stepped up to propose their own solution.
Perhaps most importantly, Gov. Perry re-positioned himself on an issue where he had been crosswise with the Republican base in the 2012 primary. Now, instead of focusing on thorny issues like in-state tuition, Gov. Perry can redirect the focus to border security.
Gov. Perry continues to prepare for a potential presidential bid, with more international travel planned, public policy issue briefings and political travel. In fact, Gov. Perry went to Iowa this. He was received in Iowa as a far bigger star in Republican politics this week than he was three weeks ago, with a burst of new momentum, a national platform and a second look from the national media.
Matt Mackowiak is syndicated columnist and an Austin, TX and Washington-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and a governor, and has advised federal and state political campaigns across the country.