The slate of contenders hoping to be the Republican nominee for President in 2016 is as crowded as it gets. The list of already-announced candidates includes Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Marco Rubio, while the likely additional candidates include Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsay Graham.
Plus, of course, there’s former Texas governor Rick Perry, who’s been not-so-subtly testing the waters for a second Presidential run for the past two years, with the three portents being his “serious” new glasses, the end of his historic tenure in Austin, and—uh—we get the feeling we’ve made this joke before.
That sort of joke—which Perry is going to get plenty more of when he officially declares his candidacy—speaks to one of the major challenges facing the former Governor: How can he redefine himself in a country that’s taken his measure, and mostly found him to be a joke? And with a crowded field of candidates made up primarily of people who’ve yet to embarrass themselves in a national campaign, how does he stand out?
The answer, at least if the recent statements from Perry are any indication, might be that he’s planning on letting Cruz, Santorum, Walker, Huckabee, and the others fight over the claim of being the campaign’s most conservative Republican. Instead, relative to the rest of the GOP candidates (which is about as big of an asterisk as you’re liable to find anywhere), Perry appears to be staking claim as one of the group’s most liberal members.
That seems like a crazy sentence to type, but let’s consider the evidence. Where Cruz and Santorum declared that they would not attend a gay wedding they were invited to, Perry offered a laid back, “Yeah, I probably would.” (Precisely whose gay wedding the former Governor would be invited to is a question for another day.) When his successor in Austin made headlines for challenging the Jade Helm military training exercises taking place in Bastrop as part of a potential conspiracy that bore watching—a position echoed by both Cruz and Rand Paul—it was Perry who attempted to calm the fervor. And, when the question of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants came up earlier this week, Perry rejected the opportunity to pander to the GOP base by repudiating his support for it during his tenure as Governor, and instead stood by the idea. (Cruz, Walker, Rubio, and Rand Paul have all given statements regarding the DREAM Act that would lead one to believe that they differ from Perry on this issue.)
In other words, when determining a campaign course during a primary season that will very likely involve a series of GOP candidates all pushing each other further and further to the right, Perry seems quite content to present himself as a gay wedding-attending, conspiracy-questioning, vaguely-pro-immigrant voice of moderation. While that likely speaks much more to just how far to the right the GOP base appears to be in 2016 than it does to any sort of inherent liberal streak in Perry’s personal politics, it’s a fascinating thing to consider: In a race with a dozen likely strong GOP candidates, there are probably going to be nine or ten who are pretty far to Rick Perry’s right.
What all of that means for either the Republican electorate or Rick Perry’s chances of securing the nomination are questions to be answered much later, of course—presumably after Perry has officially entered the race, at the very least. But as Perry looks to define himself by something other than “oops,” a campaign that places him closer to the center than his fellow candidates is an interesting place to watch.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)