The man from Paint Creek might be more competitive the second time around

September 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 26, 2013

For months, there have been whispers and rumblings that outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry may mount a second campaign for president, following his roundly criticized effort of late 2011. The latest such story came Saturday courtesy of Politico’s Anna Palmer, who wrote, “Perry certainly appears to be laying the groundwork to make a potential run possible.”

The excellent American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman saw Palmer’s story and jumped on it. Color Waldman skeptical — make that extremely skeptical — that the Texas Republican is capable of redeeming himself from his infamous “oops” moment during the Nov. 9, 2011, debate in Rochester, Mich.

You should read all of Waldman’s story, but here’s the nut:

[I]t’s true that lots of people were more successful in their second run than their first. Mitt Romney, John McCain, Al Gore, and Bob Dole all got their party’s nomination in their second try. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all made it to the White House after failing the first time they ran. Is Rick Perry the equal of any of them? I’d say no, but he surely thinks so. Which means we might be able to look forward to a whole new set of hilarious gaffes.

I’m no Perry fan, but I think Waldman may just possibly be misunderestimating — to borrow a word from a previous Texas governor — the man from Paint Creek.

Perry had back surgery in July 2011, the month before he entered the presidential race, and his recovery from the procedure was both longer and more arduous than anticipated. There has been speculation that the painkillers the governor took for his back during the fall adversely affected his campaign, and particularly his debate performance.

Not everyone agrees that Perry faltered for this reason. But if back pain and pain medication did hinder him, then it’s very possible that the Perry who runs for president in 2016 (and 2015, and 2014…) will be a lot sharper than the man we saw two years ago.

I suspect that a Perry who is on his game might have a very strong appeal to the Republican base — and perhaps beyond it. Perry will have a lot to work to do to overcome his oops moment. And he may have to make amends with conservative true believers, some of whom may still resent Perry’s suggesting that it’s heartless to deny in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants. (What would Jesus say about treating the children of law-breakers compassionately?!)

I enjoy having fun at Perry’s expense as much as the next person. But anyone who dismisses Perry out of hand is potentially making a big mistake.

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