The race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 is well underway. In the press, establishment-friendly candidates like Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and even Chris Christie have garnered the most attention. Among conservatives, first-time candidates like Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul generate the most enthusiasm. In the frenzy, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry seems all but forgotten.
On paper, this makes little sense. Perry served three terms as governor of the nation’s second largest state, which also happens to be the geographic heart of the conservative movement. Both on the stump and in more intimate settings, Perry regularly wows crowds of Republican primary voters. “Rick Perry followed with a powerful and energetic speech that fired up the crowd once again,” read Ed’s impression of Perry’s speech to Iowa Freedom Summit attendees this weekend. “He hammered Obama on immigration, and then shouted down protesters by promising them more of the fight for the next two years.”
If Perry has been written off in the media and even among many conservatives, that is entirely due to his lackluster showing in the 2012 debates when his mind was dulled by the painkillers he took while recovering from back surgery. But the Texas governor has been rebranding himself a serious policy candidate in the years that have passed since he briefly spiked in polls nearly four years ago. Last week, The Washington Post noted how the former Lone Star State governor has been boning up on issues relating to both economic and foreign policy. What’s more, it seems as though he has become more effective at articulating his positions in a compelling fashion.
Perry is still best positioned of nearly every prospective 2016 candidate to brand himself as strong on the issue that is foremost on the minds of most voters: Jobs and the economic recovery. The Texas economy is the envy of every state in the Union. What’s more, the issue of immigration has taken on new importance for Republican primary voters in the wake of a border crisis in 2014 and continued efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to reform the nation’s immigration system. Perry has served on the frontlines of the fight against illegal immigration for over a decade.
Even in spite of his qualifications, Perry is still running a nascent campaign that has largely escaped the notice of much of the conservative universe. That might soon change. As Newt Gingrich knows quite well, there is no better vehicle for ingratiating yourself to the conservative electorate than to impeach the political press for biased, unfair, or misleading coverage. Perry will soon have an opportunity to do just that.
Writing in Esquire, Charles Pierce would really like you to remember that Rick Perry is the only Republican presidential candidate to be indicted by a local Texas district attorney. The word “indicted” in Pierce’s profile of the former governor appeared in both his headline and twice in his first paragraph – though the words “Rick Perry” were absent from that lede.
Pierce also apparently seeks to popularize a new pejorative applied to Perry and his like: “Tenther.” He borrowed this term from The Center for American Progress. It is designed to lump those who believe in the authority of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides the states with significant agency over their own affairs, with conspiracy theorists of a variety equal to those who believe the United States government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks (ironically, a belief once held by Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Van Jones).
In this, of course, Perry seems to be running, not for the constitutional office of president of the United States but, rather, for the powerless office of the chief executive under the Articles of Confederation. (Perry In ’81!) Under the Articles, the states actually did compete with each other, and the result was a government that looked more like a sales war between 13 individual funeral homes.
So, in conclusion, Rick Perry is going to prove his devotion to the Constitution by an appeal for a return to the system that failed so badly that the Constitution had to be devised in the first place. But, given the nature of the prospective Republican field in 2016, he can be just as formidable as people thought he would be four years ago, when the counting to three became a problem, even now when he is, for the moment, the only indicted candidate in the field. (Being indicted, in fact, proved to be something of a career move.) . He knows very well what federal agencies he would do away with now. The Constitution speaks to him in a tongue not its own.
Paranoid oikophobia oozes from this contemptuous piece, and it is something that Perry can use to his advantage. If the left is so concerned about the prospect of competition between the states, as Pierce seems to be, Perry need only ask why that is the case. The answer to his question would be that the state he led for 12 years is presently winning that competition by a country mile. While he is at it, Perry could make an issue of the often abused Commerce Clause – the nuances of which, as Pierce demonstrates, few average Americans understand.
What’s more, conservatives will relish the opportunity to re-litigate Perry’s indictment. Not only was it the work of a district attorney who was likely motivated by sour grapes after the governor unsuccessfully pursued her resignation following a drunk-driving arrest, it is constitutionally troubling.
As Jazz wrote in November, constitutional scholar and Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh suggests that Perry’s indictment violated the Texas Constitution’s separation of powers and the governor’s immunity privileges relating to vetoing legislation. Further, it criminalizes free speech. The indictment alleges that Perry broke the law when he merely threatened to issue a veto if the DA failed to resign.
All this smacks of persecution, and conservatives know that condition well. Perhaps more than any of the other “also rans” in 2012, Perry is the most deserving of a second look from the Republican electorate. He has found it hard to break away from the pack but, if his treatment in Esquire is any indication of how the press will treat a reengineered Perry campaign, the former governor can use this episode to engineer a boomlet in the polls. The ball is now in Rick Perry’s court.