Yet Perry clearly grasps the potential power of marrying his cultural-conservative bona fides to his state’s economic record. In his speech in New York, Perry began by noting that someone had recently told him that he was “kinda job-obsessed. I said, ‘Yup, and the numbers back it up.’ In the last few years … we’ve created more jobs than all the other 49 states combined.” He joked about how, though he was happy to be speaking in Gotham, his “personal favorite reason” to leave home was to “convince a company to move their headquarters to the State of Texas.” And also about the irony of replacing Donald Trump, the originally scheduled speaker at the dinner: “He’s known for saying, ‘You’re fired!’ ” Perry said. “We’re known for saying ‘You’re hired!’ That’s what we do in Texas!”
Telling the tale of Texas will, however, only get Perry so far. What he would need to do next is explain how it happened in a way that would set him apart from the existing GOP candidates—and this is where he runs into problems. At last week’s debate and more broadly, the solutions to the jobs dilemma being peddled by Romney, Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty are the very epitome of same old, same old: the familiar conservative catechism of cutting taxes and reducing regulation. Which just happens to be the same formula, with a little bit of tort reform tossed in, that Perry argues has turned Texas into a teeming jobs machine.
Now, to be fair, Perry’s argument goes a wee bit further than that. He maintains that the key to job growth nationally is a radical form of federalism that would allow every state to compete with ruthless abandon for corporate investment—to compete, in other words, to out-Texas Texas. To many critics, this sounds like a recipe for an abysmal race to the bottom; they point out that the state, in addition to creating jobs, is also one of the most polluted in the country, has the highest percentage of residents without health insurance, and ranks 43rd in high-school graduation.
In the Republican primaries, none of this might matter much. Nor might some of the more out-there views Perry has expressed regarding the Constitution: In his book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington, he contends that the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments—which allow for the Feds to collect income taxes and for the direct election of U.S. senators, respectively—are both big mistakes. To many tea-partyers, in fact, these positions might look more like badges of honor than marks of shame.
And yet, despite all the factors auguring a run, Perry remains further from hurling himself into the fray than some assume. Though he has said he is now “thinking about” getting in, he has also said that his contemplations are not “too far into any type of formative thought process.” (If the way Perry talks about thinking makes you wonder about his capacity for thinking, you are not alone.) What that means, according to people close to the governor, is that Team Perry has not even started any rigorous evaluation of the elements that he would weigh in his decision—in terms of fund-raising, organization, and so on. Perry’s advisers also caution that the odds are no better, and possibly worse, than 50-50 that he will wind up in the race.
Which, if you think about it, isn’t really all that surprising. Running for president is a hellish business, even for those who have wanted desperately, achingly to be commander-in-chief since they could lace up their shoes. And that emphatically does not describe Rick Perry—a man who, unlike so many Republicans who claim to be anti-Washington but in fact would love nothing more than to call 1600 Pennsylvania home, genuinely seems to despise the place and everything it stands for.
Yet even if the governor does stay out, this moment of highly pitched pining for Perry has revealed something important. Not just that Republicans are unsatisfied with their current field but that one of the key things fueling that discontent is the absence on the part of the candidates of a set of prescriptions remotely commensurate, substantively or politically, with the scale of the jobs crisis. Of course, as distressed as this makes Republicans, it is, no doubt, a source of comfort for Obama—except that he has no big ideas on jobs, either, which is why he continues to be at risk of winding up unemployed himself.