Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has seen thousands of unaccompanied children flood across his state’s border, has seized the spotlight in recent days to become the national face of opposition to President Obama’s immigration policies

“This gives Gov. Perry an opportunity to take very legitimate and timely shots at the White House and the president’s failed leadership and philosophy to tour his expertise in border security and get to the heart of the immigration issue,” said Raymond Sullivan, a former adviser to Perry…

The crisis at the border has also provided Perry with the opportunity to change his image on immigration, an issue that hurt him during his 2012 run for the White House, when conservatives saw him as too soft…

Political observers expect Perry to continue to seize on the issue in the months leading up to a presidential run. “He will use it,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “It will benefit him in Texas, and it will benefit him nationally.”

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Amid the imagery and policy tussling Wednesday over the border immigration crisis, there was this delicious irony: The issue that confounded Rick Perry more than any other when he sought the presidency in 2012 has now given him a center stage role opposite the man who won the race…

Defining moments are often thrust upon political figures—it is far harder to create them than to rise to the occasion when they slap you in the face—and for Perry this moment came at an opportune time, just months before he leaves office and amid a national redemption tour that has brought him both praise and scorn as he considers a second presidential run in 2016…

In Perry’s ongoing national tour, he has emphasized areas where his views and record are most akin to Republicans at large. He has talked up job gains in Texas, reiterated his conservative views on gays and other issues, and exhorted his belief in a government that is small and based in the states, not D.C.

His odds in 2016 would seem to be long; the path from laughingstock to front-runner is rocky and circuitous. But the Republican field is replete with potential candidates whose upsides are negated at least in part by substantial downsides. And now Perry has a chance, if he can navigate it, to return to his party’s good graces on an issue that proved a big part of his undoing last time out.

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[I]t does give him the chance to change the subject from his “oops” moments and remind people why they thought he had a good shot before his 2012 dreams were derailed.

“It’s a side of Rick Perry the national public really hasn’t seen that a lot of us in Texas have,” said Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who chaired a Homeland Security field hearing on border crisis in Texas last week with Perry as lead witness. “It’s one of his most passionate issues. He’s not coming across strident; he wants to see D.C. work. He’s solution-oriented.”

One Republican operative close to Perry in Texas, who said he could not speak on the record, said that in a setting where Perry feels comfortable with an issue, “people love his ass.”

“He’s a lot smarter than he came across and sometimes comes across. Put him in that setting and he’s a stud at it,” the operative said. “He owns a small room and flops in front of the national camera.”

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His compassionate stance toward those illegal immigrants already here (e.g. in-state tuition) that got him in hot water in 2012 now acts as validation that he is not an extremist nor is he uncaring on the issue…

He is underscoring the difference between Washington D.C. politicians who talk and governors who do things.

He gets respectful treatment from the media, which recognize his expertise on the subject and have no qualms about using him to bash the White House for its remarkably inept handling of the crisis.

When and if he does run for president the first image that pops into voters’ minds may not be the 2012 debate performances, but instead the 2014 border crisis.

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Miller downplayed any impact from the current immigration crisis on a potential 2016 bid, saying “to me these are two completely separate issues.”

But GOP analyst Ana Navarro, a CNN contributor who’s close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, said “Perry embodies an interesting dynamic regarding immigration.

“He’s a border enforcement guy with the experience of being a border state governor, but he’s also shown compassion towards the human angle of the immigration debate,” she said.

Navarro added that “If he can somehow walk that tight rope, and be eloquent as to how he defends his position, it can show him as a pragmatist and be helpful.”

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If Perry can project a relationship with Obama of fruitful contrariness – I don’t like you, but I’ll deal with you if I have tohe will have hit on an enviable political sweet spot where he can be neither faulted by the hard right for being too much in the president’s pocket nor written off as an obstructionist scold with a legislative resumé written largely in the language of “No”…

“Git ‘er done” conservatism is Perry’s trademark, in stark contrast with Your Parents’ GOP. So he has staked out a position the left – to the left! – of Obama on drug decriminalization, and got out ahead of the rising libertarian movement – Rand Paul and Cory Booker – on low-level drug crimes. Perry has already shown a deft – deft! – touch in explaining why he’s actually led the Obama administration when it comes to prison reform and alternative sentencing for non-violent drug offenders: it is, he’s said, about Christian mercy and saving money, the dual ideals of totemic importance to the GOP’s base…

He’ll have to weather some stumping, of course, and, of all the potential Republican presidential candidates, Perry stands to benefit the most from the shortened primary season and curtailed debate schedule. But it would behoove his naysayers to remember that his bad-to-weird stump performances in 2012 were a seeming anomaly in a retail politics career that once earned him comparisons to Bill Clinton and the endorsement of a liberal state congresswoman “on personal grounds” during his first gubernatorial re-election campaign.

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