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.