It was the “oops” heard around the world.
The now-infamous presidential debate gaffe, when Gov. Rick Perry forgot the name of the third federal agency he would abolish, still stands as the most memorable 53 seconds of Perry’s 2012 campaign for president.
His campaign started with a bang as Perry rocketed to the front of the polls in September 2011, reaching a high of over 30 percent, a considerable lead over Mitt Romney. But then a series of embarrassing mistakes fueled a downward spiral that took place within a few months.
There was the controversial commercial on gays in the military. Or the time when Perry misstated the voting age and the date of the election. Or the speech that bizarrely had the country questioning whether the governor was drunk. By the end of the year, Perry had quickly fallen to 6 percent.
There’s new hope for the longtime Texas governor now, and it’s all but guaranteed that he will run for president in 2016. Perry has been rather open about his presidential ambitions and the rebranding process he must undergo to be a viable candidate again, and the changes are already evident.
Gov. Perry’s sometimes-provocative, often-fiery persona hasn’t been completely eliminated, but there is no doubt that some sort of transformation has taken place. The Rick Perry of today is intellectual and thoughtful, embodying the style of an experienced statesman.
It seemed to begin with the glasses – what Michelle Cottle at National Journal called “dark-rimmed, nerd-chic eyewear” – that instantly made the governor appear smarter. I was at one of Perry’s press conferences soon after he began wearing the glasses in the summer of 2013. When asked what prompted the change in style, he credited his age (Perry is 64) for failing eyesight and his wife for choosing the style.
But critics claim that the glasses are nothing but a political ploy to assist in the rebranding effort. Some work the new look into their policy critiques. In a Politico article this summer, Sen. Rand Paul wrote, “apparently [Perry’s] new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly.”
Either way, the glasses are symbolic of a much larger preparation effort on Perry’s part. “You cannot parachute into the process of being vetted for the nomination for the Republican Party without proper preparation. It is a long and arduous task,” Perry told Cottle of National Journal.
The outgoing Texas governor (his successor, Greg Abbott, will be inaugurated Jan. 20) has been courting potential donors and meeting with policy experts. These “think-tank boffins and foreign-policy gurus,” says The Economist, will help enhance Perry’s knowledge this time around. The new Rick Perry will be engaged with the world, able to offer responsible, intelligent analysis on the issues of the day.
Though he hasn’t stopped engaging on social issues or foreign policy, Perry is trying to focus more on “creating jobs.”
This theme brings Perry back to one of his favorite talking points – Texas. The Lone Star State has generated more than a third of the nation’s private-sector jobs since 2001, according to the Associated Press. Forbes ranked Texas the #1 state for “economic climate” and “growth prospects.”
The “Texas miracle,” says Perry, explains why so many large businesses and individuals are moving to the state. Last year, more Americans moved to Texas than any other state – primarily because of jobs and housing affordability. Several large businesses have moved their headquarters from California to Texas in recent years, most notably Toyota, who announced the move last April.
Despite criticism of the state’s high number of minimum-wage workers and citizens without health insurance, the “Texas miracle” does reflect a friendly business climate that encourages new jobs. As the longest-serving Texas governor in history, Perry deserves some of the credit.
But there are challenges on the horizon too. The governor was recently indicted on abuse of power charges, and it remains to be seen if this will affect his campaign at all.
Gov. Perry is known for his down-to-earth personality, and he relates to voters much more easily than Romney ever could. Though Perry’s 2012 mistakes will not be easily forgotten, he has shown a remarkable ability to change his image in recent months.
This time around, Perry seems to be trying to fill a different personality than in 2012. Gone will be much of the hard-right, tea-party appeal (though he will likely still be unapologetically conservative on guns and religion). Instead, expect Perry to fully embrace his newfound intellectualism as he aims to showcase the success of his Texas economy.