By Katie Glueck, POLITICO
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday positioned himself as a pragmatic, pro-compromise presidential candidate, dismissing 2016 rivals whom he said merely seek to be “critic-in-chief.”
Perry in recent weeks has sought to portray himself as a more moderate, thoughtful contender than he was during his 2012 campaign, when he entered the race as a firebrand conservative. In an appearance before the socially conservative group American Principles Project in Washington, Perry argued that Republicans should nominate someone with a message that goes beyond merely opposing the other side, an apparent swipe at fellow Texan Ted Cruz, a conservative hard-liner.
“We must articulate what we are for,” he said. “And in that respect, as we look to 2016, we must remember we are not electing a critic-in-chief, we are electing a commander-in-chief.”
Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, left office last month. In a preview of campaign themes for his expected presidential bid, he touted his record in the Lone Star State on issues ranging from economics to immigration, and stressed that executives are uniquely prepared to handle such challenges. It’s a contrast that many of the governors in the crowded 2016 field are setting up with their counterparts in the Senate.
Washington “has become a debating society that seldom solves problems,” he said. “Governors have to make choices and take action. Americans have become cynical that Washington can ever change. And I am skeptical that an agent of change can come from Washington.”
Perry, who spent the fall stumping for congressional candidates, nodded to the new Republican majority in the Senate and bolstered presence in the House. But he warned against taking those victories for granted.
“Let’s be clear about something,” he said. “The American voters’ rejection of the Democrat policies does not mean they embraced Republicans. A congressional majority is a terrible thing to waste. The power granted to Republicans by the people must be used to serve the people. It is not good enough to state what we are just against.”
The former governor struck some conciliatory notes, urging that “we elect leadership that rises above partisan bickering, that rises above grandstanding and gridlock, to bring Americans together and heal the divisions in this nation.” The comments built off Perry’s farewell address that he delivered in Austin last month, when he told fellow Republicans to “not place purity ahead of unity” and asserted that “compromise is not a dirty word.”
He addressed issues from “stagnant wages” to a middle class that’s still hurting, and suggested that his reign as Texas governor offers answers during the wide-ranging, high-energy speech, punctuated with expansive gesturing.
“I think it is time we started thinking bigger,” he said. “I know we can unleash growth and opportunity, and restore the American Dream for the middle class. And I know it because it happened in the 13th largest economy in the world. It happened in Texas.”
Perry pointed to booming job growth in his home state and attributed it to low taxes, fewer regulations and tort reform.
The ex-governor has also been studying various policy issues, and he offered some of his most spirited delivery of the evening as he stressed the importance of strong American leadership and the need for a muscular foreign policy.
“There is nothing wrong in America today,” he said, “that can’t be fixed with a change in leadership.”