Whether he runs or not, Texas Gov. Rick Perry commands plenty of attention on the 2016 Republican presidential stage, and he knows it.
He demanded a face-to-face meeting in Texas with President Obama to talk about the Mexico-U.S. border crisis. He also kept demanding, until the reluctant president gave him one: a televised, photographed, widely reported face-to-face meeting.
Barely taking time to catch his breath, Mr. Perry followed up with a headline-generating attack on Sen. Rand Paul’s stance on Iraq. As the longest continuously serving governor in U.S. history, Mr. Perry felt comfortable berating a U.S. senator considered to be a first-tier White House hopeful.
For a year now, Mr. Perry has been in full remedial mode for his campaign-killing gaffes in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, including when he couldn’t remember a Cabinet office he intended to eliminate if he became president.
He has been grabbing the initiative and holding on to it from his ballyhooed visit to Israel last year to his performance in March at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where many activists proclaimed he gave one of the best speeches of the three-day event.
Now he is taking on one of his potential competitors in 2016 by jabbing Mr. Paul for being what the Texas governor called an “isolationist” outside the party tradition of Ronald Reagan and Dwight D. Eisenhower because of Mr. Paul’s opposition to further U.S. military action in Iraq.
Mr. Perry took to the op-ed page of The Washington Post on July 11 to deliver a stinging attack on Mr. Paul by name, calling it “disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq.”
In his response, published July 14 in The Politico under the headline “Rick Perry is Dead Wrong,” Mr. Paul took an unusually personal tack, saying of the Texan that “apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly.”
Political observers think Mr. Perry is wily for targeting Mr. Paul because he went after a legislator and not a fellow gubernatorial prospect such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Jeb Bush, a former governor with plenty of clout among the Republican establishment and major donors.
Whatever casual observers see in this Texan, it’s clear he has no plans when his governor’s tenure ends in January to fade into the sunset like a white-hat cowboy in a spaghetti Western.
Like his predecessor in the Austin gubernatorial mansion, George W. Bush, Mr. Perry strikes people as a touchy-feely guy who projects no airs about himself. He’s just “Rick,” and he’s just as likely to throw an arm around a visitor’s neck for a quick wrestling gesture as he is to bend slightly at the waist in greeting a female visitor.
He can do either without looking like a politician showing off — all the more to his advantage because he is, of course, a politician showing off.
His attack on Mr. Paul for being skeptical about interventionism in foreign policy may not sit as well with a Republican electorate that is less hawkish than it used to be.