On Friday, news came from Texas that Governor Rick Perry was being indicted for two felony counts for abuse of power. That story is set to blow wide open on Monday when proceedings start, but for those looking ahead to 2016 it is already of utmost importance. Perry’s recent rebranding attempt has been a photoshop job to change the 2012 bumbler into the 2016 elder statesman. After hiring a new advisor and turning a 180 on immigration, Perry looks like the kind of guy Republicans would vote for. He is a hard-hitting, decisive leader and the word “oops” is nowhere to be found, except for this little snag of an indictment. So what does the new Rick Perry look like now that he is being hauled before a jury of his peers?
Before Friday, Perry was looking very good indeed and doing all the right things to position himself for a strong 2016 campaign. He had the help of Jeff Miller, a former advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor of California. Miller was partially responsible for the Governator’s meteoric rise to power and popularity in the Golden State. A well-known fund-raiser for conservative causes, Miller was just the kind of guy Perry needed to get over his image as a late-night monologue punchline and transition into a statesman the nation could trust. Serious preparations were begun, including briefings on foreign policy issues and getting Perry on national television to become a high profile interview and opinion giver. What is the best way to start a campaign? Be on the screen as a trusted analyst on every issue there could possible be.
Perry for his part has been a good student and has performed admirably. Recently he told reporters that he would keep all options open when it came to the Middle East, including sending troops to combat ISIS. At the same time that President Obama was coming under fire for being too cautious and hesitant on Iraq, Perry stepped in and made himself sound like the kind of leader many Americans seem to want right now. “I think you keep your options open,” he said, “whatever’s required to keep ISIS from continuing to be a clear and present danger.” Strong words like these pointed to Perry’s newfound expertise in international matters, a key component that was lacking for him in 2012. Miller’s foreign policy classes appeared to have been working.
But the really big turnaround for Perry has been on immigration and border protection. He used to be a moderate on the issue, much like Jeb Bush was earlier this year. In 2011, he defended his position on tuition rates for undocumented immigrants in Texas by appealing to people’s better natures. “If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought there through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” Back then, Rick Perry made everyone feel like the Tin Man who needed a heart, but now he is painting immigrants as the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. Now illegal immigrants are “narcoterrorists” who are being sent by the drug cartels and gangs to cause havoc in America. This was part of his justification for sending in the National Guard to protect the citizens of Texas from the dangerous immigrant terrorists coming over the border.
This is the new Rick Perry, then: a man who is a trusted opinion on foreign policy and who is a courageous defender of the people against a dangerous new breed of terrorist. That is a big switch from being the guy no one would trust to remember three items on a shopping list – milk, eggs and what was the third one? Oops. Perry has learned the lessons of 2012 well and this time he seems intent on preventing any mistakes. Still, there is a certain amount of equivocation from the Perry camp on whether or not he will actually run in 2016. Received wisdom and the evidence in front of everyone’s eyes says that he absolutely will, but his own people are hesitant to confirm it. One insider said that it is all “to make sure we’re getting the governor prepared so that, come 2015, he’s in a position to make a thoughtful decision.” Much like Hillary Clinton’s “will she or won’t she” speculation, Perry is trying not to show his hand too early.
Rick Perry is right up there with the smoothest political operators of 2016 at this point, but there is one problem: an indictment on felony abuse of power charges. Friday was just a preview of what is to come for the Lone Star governor. Monday is the opening act of the new drama. Will Rick Perry’s team of Jeff Miller and others be able to guide him through this new challenge? Did they hire the right people to handle a political scandal? All of that will be revealed on Monday and it will be fascinating to watch. Some have already speculated that it is nothing more than a smear campaign by liberals and that is a good story to get around for Rick Perry. More than anything, this could derail the new Rick Perry’s presidential hopes and it represents a big test for oops-less elder statesman.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury