Can Perry run in 2016? You bet — as the affable anti-Cruz

By Bud Kennedy, Star-Telegram 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a rally for South Carolina
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a rally for South Carolina

Rick Perry has a mighty funny way of running for president.

He goes to California and insults gay and lesbian Americans. Then he tells a New York writer he’s “more Jewish than you think.”

He talks about retiring to Southern California, but then hints he’d be better than U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and even mocks Cruz’s “15 seconds of fame.”

Result: Perry has been the darling of national media all week, a master of the sin-and-contrition rinse cycle and as charming as an old basset hound that messes up the carpet but still licks your face.

Just when you think he can’t possibly be a 2016 national candidate, he rallies with a combination of faith and reason, attracting both business and family-values voters while staking a national role as a Texas alternative to Cruz.

A couple of weeks ago, no less than U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas. told WFAA/Channel 8’s Inside Texas Politics that he likes “governors and former governors” for the 2016 ticket.

He nodded that he meant Perry or Florida’s Jeb Bush.

As far as I can tell, absolutely nobody is printing “Bush-Perry 2016” stickers yet. But it’s notable that Perry has defended Bush’s empathetic comments about illegal immigrants and their families.

By Thursday, Perry was conceding to Washington reporters than he “stepped right in it” June 11 by comparing sexual orientation to alcoholism. But even some of his harshest critics complimented him for finally accepting sexual orientation as genetic — in other words, God-given.

Then, in music to the Washington reporters’ ears, he implied that Cruz lacks “long-term staying power” and added, “Ask me in eight years if Sen. Cruz has made an impact.”

When Perry became governor, back last century, Cruz had just turned 30 and was a lawyer with then-President-elect George W. Bush’s legal team.

Notably, some of Cruz’s most avid Tea Party supporters were behind the push this week claiming that Texas hasn’t done enough to secure the border.

If Perry weren’t a threat, they wouldn’t be openly mocking his “Texas miracle” as cronyism or trying to undermine him.

Cruz has the inside track ahead of Perry for faith-and-values voters, Rand Paul for the libertarian faction. But Perry could easily win back some of the faith voters who went for Rick Santorum in 2012 and compete for establishment Republicans.

By email, University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray called Perry a “very, very, very longshot.”

He’s running, Murray wrote, to atone for his 2011-12 showing and “redeem his reputation, which improves his prospects for post-partum respect, influence and possibly income.”

(Perry, a Realtor when first elected, has no other outside career.)

The January 2016 Iowa caucus will sort out Cruz and Paul, Murray guessed. If Perry does as well there as in 2012, he might land on a short list for the ticket with a presidential candidate needing a Southerner or faith-and-values appeal, just as he made hopeful Rudy Giuliani’s radar in 2008.

Southern Methodist University professor Cal Jillson was less charitable.

Perry is a “hardy Texas perennial” but “wilts in other climes,” Jillson wrote.

“In California, he hit his economic points nicely, but drove right in the ditch when he turned to social issues,” Jillson wrote.

But by 2016, he might make two or three more comebacks.

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