Rick Perry Tries A Reboot

Can Rick Perry bounce back from the epic disaster of his 2012 campaign?

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When Rick Perry entered the 2012 race for the Republican Presidential Nomination, we was seen by many conservatives as their last, best hope at halting what seemed like the inevitability of a Mitt Romney victory. None of the other candidates in the race that appealed to conservatives seemed to have any shot at becoming viable candidates, and many of them seemed like little more than utter jokes. Perry had previously stated that he wouldn’t be running for President and had undergone major back surgery earlier that year, so when conservatives started pushing the idea of a Perry candidacy in the early summer of that year, it seemed unlikely that Perry would enter the race. Eventually, though, the demand for Perry to enter the race became too much for the Texas to ignore and, to much fanfare, he entered the race with a speech at the Red State Gathering in South Carolina on the same day as the Ames Straw Poll

Within a month of getting into the race, Perry rocketed to the top of the polls and raised an astounding amount of money. It really began to look like the Republican race in 2012 would come down to a battle between Romney and Perry, and that Perry had a shot at actually winning the nomination. Then, it was time for the debates. Very quickly, Perry went from being a frontrunner with an air of inevitability to one of the quickest political crash and burns that American politics had ever seen. On the issues, Perry was taking flack from all sides on issues ranging from Social Security, to immigration, and perhaps most bizarrely,   from Michele Bachmann over his support for a voluntary HPV vaccination program for schoolgirls in Texas. Even leaving aside the issues, though, Perry’s debate performances were disastrous. Later, Perry and some of his supporters blamed the debate performances, at least in part, on painkillers that the Governor was still taking related to his back surgery and the fact that standing for long periods of time was physically uncomfortable. By the end of September, Perry’s star had faded and Mitt Romney was back in the lead in the polls. By October, he was fading fast while former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain had become the GOP “flavor of the month.” When the “oops” moment finally came in November, it was  just the final nail in a coffin that was already starting to close.  When Perry’s campaign ended just before the South Carolina Primary was, in every sense of the word, anti-climatic.

Now, however, Politico notes that Perry seems to be mounting an attempt at a political comeback:

It’s impossible to exorcise the memories of 2012. But Rick Perry is going all out to present a new and improved version of himself — the swaggering big-state governor of old, with a dash of seasoned wise man thrown in.

In the early months of 2014, his political team has booked him on one high-profile program after another: He’s joked with Jimmy Kimmel, charmed the “Morning Joe” crowd and wowed the Conservative Political Action Conference. The Texas Republican’s hip glasses are still earning approving media mentions long after he first donned them. And the possible 2016 candidate has spent time with early-state types in Iowa (and in late 2013, South Carolina), while also mixing it up in more exotic locales from Davos to Palau.

His carefully choreographed, so far gaffe-free reintroduction has two overriding goals: First, to remind voters of the Rick Perry who is the longest-serving governor in Lone Star State history, a political juggernaut who won 10 straight elections before stumbling in the national spotlight. And second, to get voters to forget, or at least not dwell on, his disastrous 2012 presidential bid.

“Where I have noticed it profoundly is in the last few weeks, the national TV appearances, whether he’s been on a number of Fox shows or Jimmy Kimmel and some of the others, he just seems like a very confident, upbeat and articulate spokesman for conservative policy and values,” said Ray Sullivan, a former Perry presidential campaign spokesman and chief of staff who joined the governor’s ranks in 1998. He has his own public-affairs firm now but is still close with the office. “He seems to be enjoying himself more today than any time I can remember.”

Smooth TV appearances aside, Perry has a ways to go to demonstrate he’s equipped to be a credible national candidate after his campaign imploded so publicly last time. He continues to be dogged by his infamous “oops” moment, when he forgot on national TV the third federal agency he said he wanted to eliminate. His relatively moderate views on immigration, anathema to many in the GOP base, haven’t changed. And the 2016 GOP primary field is bound to be more formidable than the relatively weak cast of contenders Perry couldn’t overcome two years ago.

“After the 2012 race, the bar’s pretty low,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based Republican consultant. If Perry can exceed expectations, Stutzman continued, “The opportunity is there, but the margin for error is small. He needs to outperform those perceptions immediately and dramatically or he looks like the same guy in ’12 that a lot of people were surprised about.”


Politically speaking, Perry’s allies argue that there will be two big differences between 2016 and 2012, should he run: He would be in better health. They note that his long recuperation from back surgery impeded his performance last time. And he would be much better-prepared than last time, when he entered the race late.

“There is no question he wasn’t ready when he jumped in the race in 2012; [after] he had back surgery, it didn’t go well,” said powerful Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour. Now, “He’s healthy, he’s much better prepared, and he seems very comfortable in interviews and in articulating his views on what needs to happen.

Barbour, of Mississippi, is part of a small cadre of advisers that has been working for months to help prepare Perry for a possible bid. The group, a mix of Texas and national Republicans, is aiming to ensure that he’s making connections around the country and meeting with influential domestic and foreign policy thinkers to bolster his expertise in those areas.

The conversations are spearheaded by Jeff Miller — separately, the head of Americans for Economic Freedom, an independent group supportive of Perry and red-state governing policies — and also include Perry 2012 campaign manager Rob Johnson, and Terry Nelson and Rob Jesmer of FP1 Strategies, among others. Deirdre Delisi, a longtime Perry ally who has also served as his chief of staff, weighs in on political discussions on an informal basis, she said.

A source familiar with Perry’s political operation said the governor is in touch with donors “on a fairly regular basis” and that Perry is expected to travel to early voting states in the coming months. While in Iowa recently, he met with Bob Vander Plaats, an influential conservative leader who offered words of encouragement.

“He met a lot of Iowans and a lot of others last time on the campaign trail, and I think that will benefit him this time,” said Vander Plaats. “That and not starting out as the front-runner. He will have to work the campaign like I think it’s meant to be worked.”

Given the fact that he will be leaving office at the end of the year, Perry will have plenty of time to put together a campaign organization in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as continuing the national media appearances that have become far more common than they used to be. With his donor base still relatively intact, and national conservatives likely looking for a candidate with executive experience that isn’t named Bush or Christie, Perry could find himself getting that second chance that failed Presidential candidates seldom get.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Scott says:

    Perry is a lame duck here in Texas. I don’t think his approval ratings are that high although there doesn’t seem to be any recent polls. He’s pissed off a lot of people, including high rollers, state senators, state reps, with his interference in running the two flagship universities: UT and A&M. He is a crony capitalist that has a lot of rocks to turn over including some financial self-aggrandizing. He basically allowed an innocent man to be executed. Yes, let the national spotlight shine on this man. It should be fun.

  2. stonetools says:

    You can’t reboot stupid.
    I predict he will fail again. for the same reasons he did last time. In the end, he just seems quite incurious about anything outside Republican talking points. That means that he’ll look good up to and until he has to answer hostile questions and to debate issues. THen he’ll blow up once again, IMO.

  3. beth says:

    He’s W all over again. He can be charming, likable and seem empathetic and compassionate. Are we that stupid to go through all that again? Possibly. I wouldn’t count him out if Jeb or Christie don’t run.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    And second, to get voters to forget, or at least not dwell on, his disastrous 2012 presidential bid.

    I’m sure his team are well aware that the average voter has no memory beyond about three months. If one polled voters out of state, I expect far more would say, “Rick who?” than, “That screw up?”

    Is he offering any guarantee he won’t have future back trouble? Putin in a room with a stoned Rick Perry is not a happy thought. I’m not that happy about the thought of Putin with Perry at Perry’s best.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    A Reboot is difficult when the hard drive is broken.

  6. Franklin says:

    I can’t imagine a resurgence here. But to be honest, I don’t know who to put money on in the Republican field right now. I’m thinking it’s going to be someone lesser known.

  7. C. Clavin says:
  8. SKI says:

    @C. Clavin: I’m no fan of Perrry but I don’t think there is much substance behind that complaint. There is no allegation that he was trying to influence any particular prosectution. He wanted her to resign because she was convicted of drunk driving. Drastic step? Absolutely. But illegal? I don’t see it.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    Considering that the WSJ did a huge laudatory article today about Cruz and HIS decision to run for the presidency, I think that Perry doesn’t have much of a chance.

    He’s too conservative for the Chris Christie types and too moderate for the Teahadists. Which would theoretically mean that he could end up as the final “compromise” candidate except for the following:

    1) unless Perry gets an Uncle Sugar like our vegas friend he’s not going to have the money to go the distance (that’s mainly how Romney managed to survive until the end, you remember.)
    2) Putting Perry together with Cruz and Christie in a race is like tossing Mr. Happy Tuna Fish in with Jaws and Jaws II.
    3) Perry’s boring by comparison to the others (white bread generic conservative Republican), which means all the air will be sucked out towards the more “colourful” characters.
    4) Texans don’t like him all that much and are much happier with Cruz.
    5) Perry doesn’t seem to have the fire in his belly for a successful run.

  10. Pinky says:

    ” that second chance that failed Presidential candidates seldom get”

    seldom? Reagan, George HW, Dole, Gore, McCain, Romney…

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Pinky: DRATS! You beat me to it.

  12. Sejanus says:

    @gVOR08: The memory of the gaffing Perry can easily be resurrected. All the right soundbites have been recorded already and by 2016 all campaign finance regulation will be struck down by the Roberts court. This means that there will be nothing to stop a rival candidate from flooding the airwaves with repeats of Perry’s oops moment. And that’s assuming that Perry won’t be making any new gaffes by then; we have no way to confirm that his disastrous campaign was really the result of back problems rather than him being an idiot.

  13. superdestroyer says:


    but the real question is does it matter who the Republicans nominate. Does anyone really believe that there is anyone the Republicans can nominate that has the skill set to win a general election. So far there is not one Republican who is close to being presidential material or having the skill set to be a successful president if elected.

    The only question for 2016 should be whether anyone will challenge Hillary Clinton and what kind of president will Hillary be.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    I wouldn’t rule Perry out. He is profoundly incurious and arguably outright stupid. He is also charming. That’s the kind of candidate the big money Repubs like above all else – see Bush. Jr. And Reagan, Ronald. And with the Supremes saying money talks, little guys walk, well, there’s real hope there for the Gov.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it looks like Kristol has come out with his prediction of the winning team and wow, it’s a doozy.

  16. grumpy realist says:
  17. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Weather people are correct more often than Kristol.

  18. rudderpedals says:

    @grumpy realist: Oh my, OK, so Kristol’s recommending a slate appropriate for moderate Republicans.

  19. Moosebreath says:

    @C. Clavin:

    “Weather people are correct more often than Kristol.”

    People throwing darts at the wall to predict the weather are correct more than Kristol. His continued role as a pundit who is taken seriously by the networks says how difficult it is for a conservative to be thrown off the gravy train merely for being continually wrong.

  20. Matt says:

    @Scott: He didn’t just “allowed an innocent man to be executed” Rick Perry actively ensured that an innocent man would be executed by actively interfering..

  21. bill says:

    no, he can’t. running a recession proof state that doesn’t have to pander to deadbeats is way easier than running the current country. plus he’s not a good speaker, people enjoy being lied to with a eloquence & a smile these days.