This time, Gov. Rick Perry is rolling up his sleeves.
On Thursday, the Texas Republican delivered a speech at The *Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., that presented a stark contrast to the candidate's performance during his failed run for president in 2012.
The sparkle and twang haven't disappeared. But already several months into his unofficial 2016 campaign for the White House, Perry showed a fresh attention to policy detail during a lengthy speech on Iraq and the national security threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“Rick Perry is definitely doing all the things necessary to prepare himself to make a decision on running for president. He is healthy and doing what is necessary to prepare,” a Republican adviser close to Perry told the Washington Examiner.
Perry launched his 2012 presidential bid late in a contentious primary season and with minimal preparation. He was also fresh off of back surgery which his advisers later said made it hard for him to sleep, hurting his performance in debates. More than anything, Perry’s first campaign was marked by the word “oops — his answer during a televised debate when he forgot the name of one of the federal agencies he vowed to shutter if elected president.
The new Rick Perry is not only more formidable, but possibly more hawkish. In his remarks, Perry staked out an unapologetically aggressive position on Iraq at a time when public polls suggest doing so could be politically risky, even in a Republican primary. That sets him apart in the field.
Like most of the 2016 Republican hopefuls, Perry has been critical of President Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that the White House projects weakness that emboldens America’s enemies. But where other potential contenders have echoed Obama in expressing caution about expanding the U.S. military role in Iraq, Perry has tacked to the neoconservative right.
Perry's speech was billed as an address on immigration and border security. But the governor focused largely on ISIS and the ongoing crisis in Iraq. And while he said he welcomed the Obama administration’s decision to hit ISIS with airstrikes, he recommended stronger action, warning that failure to decapitate ISIS now could result in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil later.
Perry also hinted acknowledgement that his view is broadly unpopular.
“For many Americans, of course, just about the last thing we want to think about is another conflict in Iraq, and what that might involve,” Perry said. “But we better get on top of this crisis — by every means necessary.”
Regarding the Obama administration’s decision to target ISIS with military air strikes, Perry added this: “In Syria, as well as Iraq, this terrorist army must be confronted with overwhelming force. ... When [the administration talks] about limited airstrikes, they place a great emphasis on the word ‘limited.’ ”
The roots of Perry's makeover stretch back to just after his defeat in the 2012 GOP primary, the first of his long electoral career.
Within months of Obama’s re-election, the third-term Texas governor was immersing himself in presidential-level issues in preparation for a second bid. In June of 2013, Perry invited James Jay Carafano, a top national security analyst at The Heritage Foundation, and former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., a fellow at the conservative think tank, to brief him on foreign policy and national defense.
Carafano, Heritage’s vice president of foreign and defense policy studies, said early preparation is crucial for serious presidential candidates.
“I don't know if foreign and defense policy will be a big deal in the next presidential election, but it's going to be a big deal for the next president,” he said. “They will have to hit the ground running.”
The governor’s early and intense focus on foreign policy and domestic issues mirrors his political travel. Perry began traveling to the early primary states this year.
Earlier this month Perry was in Iowa. Friday he’s scheduled to be in New Hampshire, and on Aug. 27 he’ll be in South Carolina headlining a fundraiser for the state GOP. The governor didn’t even launch his first presidential bid until the summer of 2011, barely 15 months before the 2012 general election.
Whether Perry can win the nomination is another matter.
But a Republican operative who worked for another candidate in 2012 said the governor’s approach for 2016 is commendable and shows the maturity that often comes with having run once and lost. Perry is putting himself in a position to be successful this time around, this GOP operative said, explaining that the governor almost set himself up to fail in 2012.
“Perry was just winging it. He got talked into it by a bunch of folks who didn’t have a horse to ride and wanted in on the action,” the Republican operative said. “You can’t just wing these things. They require an enormous amount of preparation and discipline. He didn’t know that back then, but he does now.”