In another early sign that the 2016 Republican presidential nomination field may be crowded with big-name contenders, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is in Israel — again.
The longest-serving governor in Texas history was in Israel on Sunday, traveling with Houston businessman and former U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Chairman Fred S. Zeidman, to set the stage for the opening of the Nazareth campus of Texas A&M University, he said.
Mr. Perry, who arrived in Israel after visiting London for a plaque dedication, told The Washington Times in a phone interview from Jerusalem that the government shutdown was “political theater” that wasn’t casting a pall over his trip abroad. Not one British or Israeli government official has mentioned Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as the party’s face or complained that the U.S. suffered a black eye as a result of the 17-day government shutdown, he said.
“The United States’ reputation in Israel wasn’t affected by the shutdown, because the Israelis understand that from time to time politicians in a democracy engage in political theater, which is what the shutdown was,” he said.
He said the same held true in London, from what he could tell in his brief visit before flying on to Tel Aviv.
Asked whether government officials and Perry admirers in London or Jerusalem had talked about Mr. Cruz being what the Democrats say he has become — the face of America and of the GOP — after his role in the shutdown, Mr. Perry said, “No one has come up to me and even said the word ‘Cruz’ — no, not once did I hear that.”
Democrats, along with some prominent Republicans, have tagged Mr. Cruz as the face of the party because they think he hurt the GOP’s image by leading the tug of war between Republican lawmakers and President Obama over funding the Affordable Care Act and raising the national debt limit — with each side blaming the other for the shutdown.
In the interview Sunday, Mr. Perry was asked whether he was in Israel this week to cultivate pro-Israel evangelical Christians as well as Jewish voters and donors in America in preparation for a second Republican nomination bid.
Mr. Perry, who also visited Israel in 2007 and 2009, has acknowledged that such trips often are signs that a politician is gearing up for a run for his party’s presidential nomination, but he denied that this was true of the current trip.
“I’m here for the same reason I made the first of several trips to Israel over the last 23 years, from the time I was elected agricultural commissioner: to promote business and jobs,” he said.
“Jobs” has been Mr. Perry’s mantra for several years, based on the phenomenal job growth in Texas while national employment numbers were either stagnant or rising at the slowest rates for a post-recession period in decades. When he introduced newly elected Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell at a Republican Governors Association meeting in Austin in 2009, he quipped, “Virginia is for lovers; Texas is for jobs.”
Nevertheless, trips to Israel have become commonplace among prominent U.S. politicians and presidential aspirants, both to gauge support and to win some, from evangelicals and Jews in the U.S.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky spent eight days in Israel in January (as well as few hours with the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan), in the company of some 40 evangelical Christians and prominent American Jewish leaders. While there, Mr. Paul made no secret of contemplating a 2016 GOP nomination run.
No one in the political world will be surprised if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Mr. Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visits the Jewish nation over the next year or so.
Mr. Perry expects to sign the Texas A&M agreement Wednesday to “further bind Texas and Israel, which have much in common — in traditional values such as taking care of yourself and your family.”
The “Aggies” already have a branch campus in one Arabic-speaking country in the Middle East — Qatar, said Mr. Perry, a Texas A&M alumnus.
“The branch campus in Nazareth is the next step in extending a trade and cultural bond in he making for years,” he added.