One of my life mentors and good friends, Larry Kudlow, invited my wife and I to join him and a small group of folks here in New York City last evening for a small roundtable with Gov. Rick Perry. Larry along with pro-growth champions Steve Forbes and Stephen Moore are launching a Committee on Growth and Prosperity in the same vein as the dearly missed Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Committee on the Present Danger which proved so valuable in assessing the cold war for what it was decades ago. The idea behind this dinner last night was to put a few pro-growth proponents at the dinner table with Gov. Perry and have an open discussion about his economic message.
I have been commenting and noting for at least a couple years now that Governor Perry is an entirely different person from the one the country got briefly introduced to in the 2012 campaign. There are a lot of reasons for this, but at the end of the day Perry is a tremendous communicator and has a deeper command on issues than most politicians you will get to meet in your life. He has embarked upon a tour of sorts between CNBC, Fox News, the Sunday morning talk shows, etc. where his ideological bona fides and his intellectual gravitas are clearly on display. Americans love a comeback story. As far as I am concerned, he is as viable as anyone.
Speaking of which, I do believe it is safe to frame the Republican 2016 field as follows: (1) The group of three solid men who will unfairly be branded moderates, and would prove unable to build the necessary coalition to win (Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie); (2) The group of two men who have plenty of good to say (one more than the other), but would never build coalitions outside of their own base (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul); and then (3) The group of four or five solid conservatives who both possess the needed leadership traits to govern the country and the capability to build coalitions within their own base and outside of it (in this group I include Rick Perry, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and potentially Mike Pence). Anyone of those names from group #3 I see as viable. Anyone in groups 1 or 2 I do not. Moving on.
Gov. Perry can let much of his track record speak for itself. From 2009-2012 Texas created more net new jobs than 49 other states combined. The only problem with that stat is I don’t know how many people will even believe it; it is just overwhelming (but true) on its face. Because the Governor and I share a deep appreciation for the shale revolution, it is deeply satisfying to hear the real life accolades of what their natural gas accomplishments have meant to the state as well (23% reduction in ozone levels, 62% reduction in nitrogen oxide levels, dramatic % drop in their carbon footprint, etc.). Readers are free to have their own opinions on what environmental feats are and are not important to them, but the facts should still be presented as they are. At the end of the day, Governor Perry served 14 years in the Governor’s mansion and did not merely oversee a renaissance in the energy industry of Texas (though he certainly did that too). Texas is now the largest exporter of high tech product in the country. The economy of Texas as seen massive diversification over the last 10-12 years, so much so that despite the explosion of the oil and gas business behind the shale revolution, the energy sector is a lower percentage of Texas GDP than when the Governor took office. Companies from Toyota to Apple to Oracle to Facebook to Ebay to a plethora of pharmaceutical companies and even food businesses have planted a flag in Texas in recent years, taking advantage of the state’s extraordinary friendliness around tax and regulation for businesses. A friendly business climate is a friendly jobs climate, and the result has been the magical word guys like Kudlow and Moore care so much about: Growth. The beauty of growth is that it transcends class warfare, and lifts all boats. The 1% is not a phrase used in Texas, because the 100% have enjoyed the fruits of economic growth in Texas. So much of this can be a model to the entire country.
A lot of our dialogue last night is not for mass distribution, but I will say that he is going to need to better polish his delivery on the crucial issue of immigration. I am firmly in the Governor’s camp on the policy side of the issue, but I am not convinced that a mere focus on securing the border will be enough to pacify the far right fringe on this issue (where someone like Laura Ingraham can get away with saying that we should be going door to door finding illegals to deport). Perry has the right policy prescription (secure borders and a guest worker program) and it surely will be the right message in a a general election (Perry always won a minimum of 40%+ Hispanics in his three gubernatorial races), but I am not sure the primary message where candidates will be vying to carve out the silliest message possible on this pivotal human and economic message has been fully developed yet.
What I am sure of is this: Picking a primary horse this early has not been a good strategy for quite some time as those with a Hillary 2008 sticker can attest. Perry will need early good luck to get in the top five of candidates once this thing gets underway. He is a solid fundraiser and a compelling candidate. If he can break into that top five, I am convinced he can become a serious contender in the primary. And I will close with this: Should he survive what I expect will be a grueling primary, and end up in a one-on-one race with Hillary Clinton, there is no doubt in my mind that the great feats of the Texas Governor’s mansion over the last 14 years will be coming to The White House.