For Rick Perry, California Visits Offer Practice for 2016

For Rick Perry, California Visits Offer Practice for 2016

When my Breitbart California colleague Adelle Nazarian and I met Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the magnificent La Valencia hotel in tony La Jolla, he looked more like a venture capital executive than a governor. 

He was dressed in shirtsleeves and a pale blue tie, earphones plugged into his iPhone, tapping away on his MacBook Pro and wearing the dark-rimmed glasses that have become the trademark of the post-2012 Perry persona. 

It’s Rick Perry 2.0.

Perry is in California for the second time in two weeks, this time to address the New Majority, an organization that seeks to restore fiscal conservatism to California. His last visit is still making headlines. 

In the space of a few short days, Perry managed to evoke both the envy and ire of Californians, driving a Tesla around the state, dispensing economic advice, and reflecting on the potential parallels between homosexuality and alcoholism. 

He is back again–back so often, in fact, that journalists suggested that he might want to move to California. 

“My wife is out looking at houses,” he joked. “Though in this neighborhood, I probably couldn’t afford any.” 

Perry’s mission on this visit, as on others, has been to recruit California businesses to open in Texas–and to encourage California to turn its own economy around by cutting taxes, regulations, government programs, and spending.

On Thursday morning, just before our interview, the latest Field Poll was released, showing that Californians have a gloomy economic outlook. More than twice as many California voters say that the state is in economic “bad times” (53%) as say that it is in good times (25%). That pessimism persists, even though more say that their own financial situation has improved rather than worsened in the past year, for the first time since 2007.

That may be why Perry is starting to break through to Sacramento. “I think we’ve been successful in seeing the acknowledgment, at least,” he says, noting that when he first started running ads in California in 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown tried to dismiss the recruitment effort as “barely a fart.” Yet as businesses, skills, and jobs have continued leaving, that attitude has changed, and California’s leaders are slightly more open to reform.

In addition to boosting California’s fortunes, Perry seems keen on boosting his own–politically, at least, in advance of the 2016 presidential campaign. He is openly considering a second run at the job, after his 2012 effort foundered on immigration policy controversies and debate gaffes. And deep-blue California is the perfect training ground for Perry to hone his message and practice speaking to skeptical, if not hostile, audiences.

Perry has spent hours being briefed on domestic and foreign policy issues at the state’s array of think tanks, including Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He has spent days with tech entrepreneurs and scientists, and was deeply impressed, he says, by a visit this week to General Atomics, which is developing alternative energy sources. He has cultivated a connection to the Scripps Research Institute, taking interest in their work on adult stem cells.

Indeed, Perry is so fluent and confident in the arcane details of cutting-edge policy issues that it is difficult to understand why he has developed a reputation for gaffes. Yet his one-on-one spark sometimes fails to come across onstage. 

Perry tells me he is working on that, too, practicing his presentation skills with some Hollywood conservatives who are advising him (though he will not reveal exactly whom, for fear of blowing their cover).

Perry is frustrated by missteps, such as the controversy over his remarks about homosexuality. “I spoke for 59 minutes about job creation and for one minute about that,” he laughs. 

Yet he regards such episodes as part of a learning process. In this case, Perry says, the lesson he took from San Francisco is to stay focused on the core issue–which, for him, is the economy. “Gay or straight,” he says, “if you don’t have a job, that’s not good.”

Foreign policy is also a repeated theme for Perry, who is one of the only Republican contenders for 2016 with military experience, having served overseas with the Air Force in the mid-1970s. He says that the U.S. needs to be “exceedingly careful” about intervening in Iraq, especially given the emerging alliance between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, as well as Iran, as the Sunni extremists of ISIS advance.

He blames the crisis on President Barack Obama’s “lack of engagement,” both diplomatically and personally. “He wanted to be able to say: the war in Iraq is over,” Perry said, arguing that Obama left Iraq too soon for the sake of domestic politics. He notes a similar neglect by the president on the issue of border security, blaming the ongoing crisis on a variety of factors, but especially on the federal government’s failure to enforce the law.

He comes back, in the end, to the economy. And the light glints off his Lone Star cufflinks as he notes that Texas created 37% of all new private sector jobs since 2000; that Texas is the top destination in dollar terms for new investment; that Texas is #1 in technology exports. 

This is Rick Perry, CEO of a state that offers, he says, the best life for middle-class families. And if he does run in 2016, he says, this time he will be prepared to win.