Jennifer Rubin - Sources close to [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry tell me he is now “serious” about a presidential bid. He has been talking with his big money donors for the past week, and they had a conference call on Monday to talk assembling a possible 2012 campaign.The availability of key aides means one barrier to a presidential run has been removed. But there are reasons Perry might not want to run. To start with, he’s been clear that his view of the federal government is driven by the 10th Amendment, namely do as little as possible and get out of the way. But even if one’s vision is less federal government, a presidential candidate is going to need affirmative policies, most especially when the complaint against President Obama is that he’s not leading. Does Perry have a national agenda? We don’t know.
But the rub was this: There was no way Perry would run for president without his top political consultant, Dave Carney. And it also would be nice to have his former campaign manager, Rob Johnson, on board.
Unfortunately for Perry, both of those guys were working on Gingrich 2012. Carney was advising Gingrich in New Hampshire and Johnson was Gingrich’s senior political adviser. As one top Republican strategist told me on Tuesday, the canary in the coal mine for a Perry presidential run is whether Carney would leave Newt.
Now, Gingrich’s entire team has up and quit. And all of a sudden Carney/Johnson are available. And Rick Perry is for real.
Moreover, as soon as Perry gets in he’s going to face stiff competition from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for the votes of social conservatives and Tea Partyers. Do they divide up the conservative base, allowing Mitt Romney (as John McCain did in 2008) to slip through? The prospect of running is different than the reality of trying to put together a race very quickly (would he have to skip Iowa?) and finding a toe-hold early in the race (could he win before South Carolina?).
Opinion among experienced Republican campaign advisers and former officials varies. I talked to a number last night, none of whom are supporting a 2012 candidate.
One experienced conservative told me that of the populist-leaning candidates, such as Bachmann, he found Perry the most electable. A GOP official tells me, “He is a great politician not to be underestimated. His message works in Iowa, New Hampshire and everywhere.”
But others profess wonderment at the buzz he is generating. Some are concerned about his penchant for being the “wild card,” not unlike Gingrich or Bachmann. He’ll have to explain his comment about Texas secession and demonstrate the sort of discipline a national race with national media demands.
Others are concerned about finding a candidate with appeal outside of GOP strongholds. As one strategist put it, “I hate to say it, but I don’t think the nation is ready for another ‘swashbuckling’ Texan.”
Some are even more harsh. A Republican adviser on Capitol Hill cracks, “I think he’s PT Barnum. He’s a showman and no one’s sure if he’s serious about his beliefs.” He also recalls that Perry was the Democratic state chair in 1988 for Al Gore. And then there was his controversial executive order for all Texas girls to be vaccinated with Gardasil, an anti-STD drug whose company employed Perry’s former chief of staff as a lobbyist.
All of that said, he has some real strengths, including an enviable economic record, a sophisticated understanding of energy policy, vast campaign experience (he’s in his fourth term, replacing George W. Bush in 2008 and then winning three additional terms) and a willingness to be ruthless (ask Kay Bailey Hutchison). He’s a prodigious fundraiser and a charismatic speaker.
Chances that Perry will get into the race are very high. But the notion that he can simply walk away with the primary is downright silly. A experienced campaign adviser summed it up, “The enduring question is how good he is when forced to go beyond the talking points, how deep he is. He’ll have to prove that.” As will his opponents.