So Who Exactly is Stronger Than Rick Perry in 2016?

Mark Davis

7/12/2013 12:01:00 AM - Mark Davis

If you’re wondering whether my Governor is going to try to become our President, I have no magic window to that, even though I have known him for nearly twenty tears.

But from here in Texas, where all kinds of political plotlines are getting attention, there are some insights I can share as Rick Perry plans a return to private life that may be only momentary.

First, let’s get rid of the dumbest analysis of the past week-- the notion that Perry is not seeking re-election because he feared a loss to pro-choice rock starlet Wendy Davis.

Senator Davis may run, and why not? She is probably the Democrats’ strongest candidate for 2014. But amid all the buzz about Texas shifting from red to purple, be aware that we are nowhere close to electing a Democrat Governor.

If state Attorney General Greg Abbott serves as Perry’s successor, he would be a strong incumbent seeking re-election in 2018, so that’s not exactly a door the Texas Dems can walk through either. So we’re a good decade away from any notion of a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion in Austin.

So will Perry seek another mansion to move into in January 2017, the one being vacated at last by the Obamas?

It would not surprise me. But nor would a decision to stay in private life, to write books or just enjoy his family, including a granddaughter born just a couple of weeks ago. It’s easy to forget because he looks years younger, but President Perry would turn 70 at the end of his first term in the White House. He would, in fact, be the third oldest man ever inaugurated, behind Ronald Reagan and William Henry Harrison, and just a week ahead of James Buchanan.

But let’s not obsess. No one is talking about Hillary Clinton’s age as a factor, and she has more than two years on Perry.

The 2016 GOP primary race may have a young-folks feel to it, though. In a field that may contain Senator Marco Rubio (currently 42), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (45) and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (42), Rand Paul and Chris Christie look like grizzled veterans at 50.

But let’s sift through those names while asking a question about Perry’s chances. If you find yourself underestimating him because of the “oops” moment on a debate stage, think again: Who exactly would bring stronger credentials than Perry in 2016?

Let’s dispense with Christie immediately, because millions of Republicans nationwide already have. I’m pleased to have him as Governor of New Jersey, but his zeal to keep that job has involved episodes ranging from fawning over President Obama to faint-at-best support of the Romney-Ryan ticket to ambivalence over some conservative causes.

Senator Paul is an interesting guy. Not as out-there as his Dad, but still steeped in a rigid libertarianism that might place him just outside the GOP primary mainstream.

Walker and JIndal are superb public servants who have helped their states with bold conservative leadership, but they have been around for a hiccup of time compared to the decade and a half Perry will be able to tout in a thriving Texas.

I mention Jeb Bush only because every 2016 preview insists on it, even though I find absolutely no groundswell of desire for his candidacy.

So again-- tell me who would be a bigger deal than Perry at the starting gate sometime around the summer of 2015? (I’m not forgetting Sarah Palin. I just don’t think she will run for President again, and who knows? She may be freshly installed by then as Alaska’s newest United States Senator.)

Now to the irony you may have already discerned. There is one name that might excite as many voters as Perry, if not more, and he is one of those pesky 42-year-olds, and from the same state, to boot.

That would be Ted Cruz, who has generated more buzz and passion in six months in the U.S. Senate than some leaders do in an entire career. A poll this month already shows more Texans stoked about Cruz than Perry for the White House.

But let’s tap the brakes for a moment. While Cruz has more zip on the appeal meter right now-- and he deserves every bit of it-- there would have to be attention to the skills needed to win a general election, and there Perry’s seasoning and broader appeal may accrue to his advantage.

But if national GOP voters are in the same “screw it, we want a fighter” mood that Texas voters channeled last year, Cruz would be a force so formidable that Perry may choose to stay out rather than walk into that buzz saw.

But when have we been in that mood lately? No wonder we pine for Reagan. He wasn’t just a magnificent President, he was the last consistently conservative nominee we offered up-- and I say that with all due respect for our standardbearers since, especially George W. Bush, whose presidency I will always be grateful for in the post-9/11 era, even though government got way too big on his watch.

So a lot of fortunes depend on the mood of Republican voters as 2015 winds to a close and the Iowa caucuses draw near. Will we atomize our preferences along a wide spectrum containing some worthy warriors, allowing another under-inspiring, semi-conservative to waltz through the crowd to the convention?

Or will we be in the mood to stand up to Hillary, or whoever the left’s hero will be that year? Will we be ready to fight for the repeal of Obamacare, lower taxes, state’s rights and a strong values agenda?

He may have struggled last year to remember that third cabinet agency he would get rid of, but with four more years of protecting Texas from the Obama agenda, coupled with a crisper approach toward campaigning, Rick Perry would be a strong bet to land among the strongest contenders when hopefuls start announcing two years from now.