Success in national politics almost always comes down to timing.
Running for president is a deeply personal decision, because it requires unparalleled discipline and endurance, a wildly unreasonable invasion of privacy, and, as Gov. Haley Barbour (R., Miss.) has pointed out, a willingness to make a ten-year personal and family commitment.
The Republican primary field is mostly complete, but it leaves many on the right wanting. They believe it does not contain the next Ronald Reagan, the kind of candidate who can directly attack the policies of President Obama while uniting the conservative movement.
Texas governor Rick Perry has a golden opportunity to fill the vacuum. He did not envision being in the position that he finds himself in now — no one could have. The dominoes had to fall in a certain way, in a certain order.
Many candidates who could have filled the hole in the current field passed, for their own reasons. Governor Barbour would have been the southern candidate with significant financial backing. Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) would have been the social conservative with Reagan-like communication abilities. Sen. John Thune (S.D.) would have been a next-generation candidate in the vein of Obama. Gov. Mitch Daniels (Ind.) would have been the serious candidate laser-focused on the debt.
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was a natural choice to represent Perry’s corner of the candidate pool, or even to receive Perry’s endorsement; two of Perry’s top aides left to serve as senior advisers to Gingrich. But they both resigned last week, and one of them, Perry’s longtime senior adviser Dave Carney, was seen traveling with Perry in New York on Tuesday.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), in spite of her recent strong debate performance, remains a controversial figure who is viewed with suspicion by Capitol Hill Republicans and the GOP establishment. Businessman Herman Cain is beloved by the Tea Party, but remains a long shot for the nomination.
Waiting in the wings is Governor Perry, the one remaining electable candidate who’s open to running. He has a powerful story to tell.
Governor Perry is uniquely positioned to win two of the first three Republican nominating contests (Iowa and South Carolina), unite the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, raise enough money to compete with Mitt Romney, and establish a narrative that contrasts well with President Obama’s. With Perry as governor, Texas has created more private-sector jobs than all other 49 states combined. This election will hinge on the economy, so there may be no better messenger.
Governor Perry initially said he would not run for president in 2012. He has called being governor of Texas “the best job in the world.” And he clearly believes it, as he chose to run for an unprecedented third term as governor in 2010, soundly defeating Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in a March 2010 primary despite trailing in the polls for some time.
When Governor Perry said he would not run, I believed him. But the ground has shifted beneath his feet. The man, the moment, and the opportunity have converged. Just as President Obama saw an opportunity and seized it in 2008, Perry can do so now.
Governor Perry has been genuinely surprised by the depth of interest in his potential candidacy, including stirring praise from Rush Limbaugh.
Over the next few weeks, Perry is road-testing a campaign stump speech. He spoke at a Hispanic-focused pro-life event in L.A. on Saturday, addressed a major fundraiser on Tuesday in New York City (where he also sat down with the Wall Street Journal editorial board), and is chairing the Republican Governors Association meeting in Charlotte this week. This weekend, he will address the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, a high-profile event that is drawing most of the current presidential field.
If he runs, Governor Perry will look to replicate his record from Texas at the national level. He cites four principles as the reason that Texas has succeeded while states such as California and New York have lagged behind. First, “don’t spend all the money.” Second, keep regulations “fair and predictable.” Third, enact tort reform that “does not allow for oversuing.” And finally, fund an accountable education system.
This platform, along with his pro-life record, his closing of a $15 billion–plus budget deficit in Texas without raising taxes, his strong border-security record, and his fervent support for the Tenth Amendment, fits perfectly with the focus of the current Republican primary electorate. No one else has both the credibility necessary to run on this platform and the ability to simply and powerfully communicate it.
Perry’s successful reelection campaign in 2010 provides clues to how he would run for president. He did not sit for a single editorial board across Texas in the 2010 campaign, and he received no endorsements — but it didn’t matter. Instead, he focused on conservative media outreach, hosting bloggers for a summit in Texas. Governor Perry has three Twitter accounts, one that he handles personally, and he very effectively used SMS, Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, and other platforms to build a grassroots army in 2010.
His campaign will be a grassroots effort, with major financial backing from the Tea Party, from wealthy donors throughout Texas, and from the major national donors he has cultivated over his eleven years as governor of the second-most-populous state.
The next Republican presidential debate is July 10 in Las Vegas, cohosted by Americans for Tax Reform and the Daily Caller. The Iowa Straw Poll is less than a month later in Ames. I fully expect Governor Perry to be an announced candidate participating in both.
The man, the moment, and the opportunity have converged. Another moment such as this may never return.
— Matt Mackowiak is a Washington- and Austin-based Republican consultant and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and one governor, and has worked on two winning campaigns. He can be reached at email@example.com.