The PJ Tatler

Rick Perry is not the second coming of Bush

NRO is abuzz with Gov. Perry’s New York swing, with posts by Rich Lowry, Brian Bolduc and Stanley Kurtz. They all seem to be pretty impressed with our governor. It’s always interesting to see how folks outside Texas respond to Texas politicians, which can be an acquired taste.

Perry is a memorable speaker. As Kurtz says, he tends to act out what he says, using his face and his arms to create drama and laughs. There’s more than a dash of prairie preacher, and a lot of the Aggie yell leader, in Rick Perry. And as Lowry notes, he can be passionate, funny and sincere. The first time I saw Perry speak in person was shortly after I moved back to Texas. I had been out of the state for about 16 years, living in Japan when I was in the Air Force and on the East Coast afterward. I’d moved back home and was working for Texas GOP, and was attending a RightOnline forum in Austin, May or June 2009. The forum was small, with maybe 20 or so in attendance. Perry was the keynote, and delivered a great little stemwinder that hit on two subjects. Neither was about him per se, which by itself is fairly unusual for a politician. I’d gotten used to hearing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley turn every single subject back into some way to glorify himself, never mind that he had never quite delivered on his mayoral promise to clean up Baltimore’s rampant crime. But Perry talked about the Texas economy, and about social media. His speech was off the cuff and at times hilarious, particularly when he picked at the mainstream media and Obama’s economic policies, which he confidently predicted would make things worse. His economic riff was smart and clear, to the point that I remember much of it two years later, and it has held up very well alongside the facts of the Texas economy. His economic philosophy, which he repeats often, is to keep the government small, the regulatory environment fair and predictable, and for government not to spend all the money — and mostly, just keep the government out of the way.

Perry talked about social media because he was speaking at a social media event, and he made it very clear that he really does get social media. I do social media for a living; Perry really understands social media. He had already picked up and mastered twitter and spent a few minutes evangelizing about it and pointing out that social media is one way to break the mainstream media’s stranglehold on the national conversation. (Anthony Weiner’s scandal would eventually demonstrate the pitfalls of twitter, but also prove Perry right about social media forcing the MSM to cover a story.)

At one point, he held up his BlackBerry and declared that because it can take photos and video, can tweet and post to facebook, whoever has a similar device is the media. He stressed that it’s not the “new media,” a term he flatly rejected (and which, as someone who had also already rejected it, I appreciated), but just “the media.” It’s not necessarily new (blogs have been around for about 10 years now), and it will evolve, and anyone can participate. It was the kind of message I had already started delivering in speeches for the party, so Perry’s remarks resonated strongly with me.

Perry also spent a few minutes chatting with the bloggers who were there, asking about their blogs and commenting on the ones he had read. The man can do retail politics.

Now, it’s true that if you close your eyes, his voice is hard to distinguish from another Texas governor, George W. Bush. Some of his facial expressions also resemble Bush’s. They both can also garble a sentence every now and then and get trapped in some odd syntax, though Bush is far more prone to this than Perry. Also like Bush, Perry can hand out nicknames and tends to dislike and tweak the mainstream media. Both are kind of Texas things that may seem odd to those born outside the old republic, and can make us seem a little weird to non-Texans. Not hippie Austin weird, just a little different. Which, in fairness, we are.

Superficial things aside, Perry is not the second coming of Bush. He is a bit more instinctive and, politically, to Bush’s right. On policy he is libertarian to conservative, and Obama’s most natural nemesis. He’s the Texas governor that your liberal friends warned you about. If he runs for president, Perry will have to work extra hard to drive that not-Bush truth home, both to disenchanted Republicans and independents who pine for Bush now but might have second thoughts as the vote draws near. What he is is a very capable governor and arguably the best campaigner Texas has ever produced. Both his supporters and critics agree on the latter, at least. He assembles excellent talent and then unleashes them on his opponent, while he sticks to his core messages and themes. He has his detractors left and right, but that’s true of anyone who has spent time in the arena, and Perry has served as governor longer than anyone else in Texas history. He has served long enough to have piled up a policy mistake or two, which is also natural. If he runs, expect to hear a lot about the Trans-Texas Corridor, HPV vaccine and the border. But after more than 10 years in the hot seat, it would be unnatural if Perry didn’t have some critics. Those who search for the “perfect” candidate to take on Obama will search in vain.

If Rick Perry runs for president, he’ll definitely shake up the campaign and bring a Texan mix of brashness and valuable experience to the race. As a one-time conservative Democrat who saw the light, switched parties, and brought truckloads of his former colleagues over to the right with him, Perry does resemble another former governor. But that governor wasn’t from Texas.

ALSO SEE:Shootin’ with the Governor (Perry)