Rick Perry's Good--But Not Sure--Shot at 2012

The Texas governor has a lot to answer for as he begins to face the national electorate.

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It’s beginning to look more and more like Texas Gov. Rick Perry is going to throw his hat back into the presidential ring.

He’s been acting like a reluctant candidate for months, starting with his barn-burner of a speech last February to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative political activists.

[See a slide show of GOP 2012 contenders.]

He’s already taken himself out of the race once, but Perry—and whether he’s in or out of the 2012 contest—has dominated much of the election coverage since the recent debate featuring seven of the announced GOP presidential candidates, including the media-designated frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Conventional wisdom holds that the debate lacked sparks and that none of the candidates particularly distinguished themselves. There certainly was a lack of the kind of fireworks needed to energize the conservative bloc of Tea Party voters that appear to hold the keys to victory in the upcoming primary season. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

Enter—or to put it better, re-enter—Perry, who has presided over a period of economic growth in Texas during his 10 years as the state’s chief executive, where, as a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas analysis recently put it, as many as 48 percent of all the new jobs in the country have been created over the past two years.

This is not to say he’ll have an easy time of it. Perry has a lot to answer for as he begins to face the national electorate. His record, at first glance, is impressive. When you look at it more deeply, things begin to emerge that will need to be addressed, any one of which could throw the campaign—if there is one—off its footing.

Some things may be easily explained away, like his chairmanship of Al Gore’s 1988 Texas presidential bid—when Gore was the “conservative Democrat” in the race. Some things may not. [Vote now: Should Rick Perry Run for the 2012 GOP nomination?]

One is the unsubstantiated rumor, as Politico's Maggie Haberman recently wrote, “that Perry and his wife Anita had split, and that the governor was gay.” Particularly vicious, these rumors are generally believed to have originated inside or around the campaign of someone who once ran against Perry. As Haberman and others acknowledge, they have never been proven “despite repeated review by media outlets,” but they became so prolific that he once had to address them head on.

If he runs for president, he will likely have to do so again because most of the people who have heard these allegations put no stock in them, meaning they are likely to have little if any effect on his appeal to Republican primary voters. The leftwing blogosphere, on the other hand, is likely to breathe new life into them, making them a distraction that once again needs to be dealt with.

Another reflects what noted political scientist Richard Hofstadter once called “the paranoid style in American politics.” Perry, as an advocate for free trade and the now-abandoned Trans Texas Corridor, is considered by some on the fringe to be part of an elite movement intent on remaking the United States as something less than a sovereign nation. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

An example of this can be found at Inforwars.com, a marginally influential, over-the-top website.

“Every indication suggests that Bilderberg-approved Texas Governor Rick Perry is set to become the frontrunner in the Republican race to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency,” Paul Joseph Watson writes on the site, “illustrating once again how a shady, secretive and undemocratic global elite holds the reigns of true power while Americans are distracted by the delusional notion that they have a genuine choice in 2012.”

Calling Perry “the ultimate globalist,” Watson goes on to accuse Perry of having “given enthusiastic support to former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s efforts to turn Texas into a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants.” And, tying it all together, he accuses Perry of having “aggressively promoted the Rockefeller Foundation-backed HPV vaccination campaign in Texas that has led to deaths worldwide. David Rockefeller is a prominent Bilderberger, attending each annual meeting without fail.” [Read Schlesinger: Texas Can't Secede.]

While this may seem nonsensical—even laughable—to most Americans, there are Republican primary voters who care passionately about issues like the protection of American sovereignty—though perhaps not to the degree that Watson seems to—and who can be moved on issues like this.

In a field as divided as the crop of Republicans running for the GOP nomination, it won’t take much to swing the race one way or another. Perry, who may look like the knight on the white charger right now, will have to defend himself and his record as soon as he gets into the race, against challenges both real and imagined. What may look right now like a sure thing to many people may just not be.

  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.
  • See a slide show of GOP 2012 contenders.
  • Vote now: Should Rick Perry Run for the 2012 GOP nomination?