Texas Gov. Rick Perry has hit the ground running ahead of the 2016 presidential race. He’s already visited a couple of early primary states, and his agenda is loaded down with appearances in front of big-name Republican groups. But, perhaps most tellingly, he’s starting to reinvent is image.
Perry’s team has already begun to backtrack on its mistakes from 2012. Gone is the goof who couldn’t remember how to count to three — meet the new intelligent, glasses-wearing governor. Gone is the hyper-right-wing Southerner who eschewed all government action — meet the man who has positioned himself decidedly to the left of Texas’s Ted Cruz.
First up on the docket — make him look smarter. And what says smart more than a pair of thick-rimmed glasses? Perry has replaced his fresh-faced look of 2012 with a more wizened, bespectacled one. Perry’s new style choice makes him look more like Atticus Finch than the bumbling fellow we remember from the 2012 primary debates. And don’t make the mistake of thinking this isn’t intentional — Perry isn’t just wearing these glasses to improve his ability to read the teleprompter.
Next up — make him electable. As much as those on the left would like to believe that Perry is flat out crazy and those on the right would like to believe that he is a man of firm principals who has never faltered from the conservative agenda, the real truth is that he is a formidable politician who has — and will continue to — shift to meet the political tide of the times.
Perry began his political career as a Democrat. He worked for the Al Gore campaign in 1988, when Gore was running against George H. W. Bush. Only two years later, Perry had converted to the Republican Party to challenge the popular Democratic Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower. In an ambush, Perry won that race and set himself up for a fiery political career that has continued to this day.
2012 called for Perry to be extreme in the primaries, and that’s what he tried to be. But 2016 does not call for that. In the face of a Republican Party that is losing ground among moderates and minorities, it calls for a Republican who can meet everyone in the middle — and Perry is already setting himself to do just that. The ultra-conservative Ted Cruz is the new face of Texas right-wing politics, while Perry is actively eschewing that moniker, calling Cruz’s position on the government shut down “nonsensical” and purposefully positioning himself to the left of Texas’ controversial senator.
“Everybody gets to go out and do their thing,” Perry told The Dallas Morning News when asked about Cruz’s government shutdown antics. “That’s his thing. My thing is governing.”
He told the Dallas Morning News he thought the shutdown was bad news for both parties, and pushed for more bipartisanship in the face of controversy, a line he rarely uses in Texas politics.
“It’s ‘a pox on both their houses,’ is what Americans think, because Washington is dysfunctional,” Perry said, quoting Shakespeare (see the above-mentioned attempts to seem smarter).
This message also effectively capitalizes on American hatred of the national government. With both Congress’s and Obama’s approval ratings at an all-time low, he’s got a lot to gain by continuing the anti-Washington message he pushed in 2012. If the country wasn’t ready for it then, it’s certainly ready for it now.
Many people will dismiss Perry’s 2016 campaign as dead on arrival, but don’t count him out just yet. Perry may play the simple conservative card in front of Texas audiences, but he’s a craftier politician than that. Perhaps his glasses are just the beginning of a much smarter campaign for 2016.