The situation in Austin suggests that a Texas icon may be shifting his focus from state to national politics. Governor Rick Perry seems increasingly unlikely to run for reelection — and increasingly interested in taking another gander at the presidency.
He alluded to an interest in the White House back in March, and Texans close to Perry have told National Review that he’s strongly considering a presidential run. David Carney, who was Perry’s top adviser during his 2012 presidential bid, tells me that “there’s no question” that Perry is seriously weighing the prospect of a 2016 run; it’s not just talk. That said, at this point it’s also not a whole lot more than talk, either. And before the governor decides whether he wants to be president, he has to figure out whether he wants to be governor again. He’s said he’ll announce his gubernatorial intentions next month, after the Texas legislative session has wrapped up. And he told The Shark Tank, a Florida political blog, that he’ll announce whether or not he has presidential intentions sometime after that.
A number of Texas politicos are guessing that he’ll take a pass on running for a fourth full term as governor. The state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, has intimated that he’s interested in the seat, and his war chest is about three times the size of Perry’s, weighing in at $18 million. Though there’s a moratorium on fundraising while the legislature is in session, a Republican consultant familiar with both Perry’s and Abbott’s operations tells me that the AG has kept up with top donors during the session, and that he’s beefing up his ties with grassroots groups. He’s also hired a campaign consultant. And the source confirms that the attorney general’s team will be conducting interviews for campaign staff toward the end of this month. Another source noted that other would-be candidates for statewide positions are also recruiting for campaign staff, and that Perry, notably, isn’t.
Also significant is the absence of a Perry right-hand man. In the past, the governor leaned on David Carney for guidance. But he’s no longer on Perry’s team, and a source tells me that that role hasn’t been filled. It’s a vacancy that’s unacceptable if the governor has a bid for statewide office imminent. All these problems are fixable, of course — Perry could find a new top adviser, hire campaign staff, and amp up his fundraising — and they don’t preclude a gubernatorial run. But they do suggest that said run is far from guaranteed.
Another factor is that Abbott and Perry have a gentleman’s agreement — at least, so says the governor — that they won’t run against each other. The two are friendly and like-minded, so don’t expect a bruising primary between them. It’s probably going to be one or the other, and recent activity suggests that Abbott is the one.
Assuming that’s the case — and bear in mind, again, that this is just an assumption — Perry would be poised to start laying the groundwork for a presidential bid. The consultant familiar with both men’s operations says that Perry would have the best luck in a presidential run if he exited the governorship gracefully and focused on building a national network. If Perry can rebrand himself, marshal grassroots support, and develop a platform on national issues, he could position himself to be a contender for 2016.
The consultant adds that Perry probably thinks that one shortcoming of his last bid was entering the race too late, and that he won’t want to make that mistake this time around.
But who knows? It’s Rick Perry, and he’s not a devout believer in conventional political wisdom. And though it may seem far-fetched (and far-out) right now, there’s a case to be made to conservatives for Perry 2016. Ray Sullivan, a Texas Republican operative who worked on a number of Perry’s campaigns and handled communications for his presidential bid, says Republicans shouldn’t write him off.
“If Republican voters in Texas or in the rest of the country are looking for a model of effective limited government and job creation, Rick Perry has to be on that list of likely candidates,” he tells me.
Rick Perry 2016: It’s not inconceivable.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.