Rick Perry tries again

Rick Perry has officially entered the race for the GOP presidential nomination. He’s the tenth Republican to throw his hat in the ring so far.

Before assessing his chances, let’s take a moment to compare the quality of the Republican and Democratic fields.

Martin O’Malley probably rates third among Democratic contenders, behind Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. O’Malley was a two-term governor of Maryland whose performance was poor enough that, for only the second time since 1966, the Dems were unable to hold the Maryland governor’s mansion after he stepped down.

I doubt that Rick Perry makes many top five lists in the GOP field. But he served three and a half highly successful terms as Texas governor, and his Republican successor won handily last year.

As for Perry’s prospects, Dan Balz of the Washington Post offers two competing views. The first comes from former Matthew Dowd, a former political aide to George W. Bush:

Many share the view of Matthew Dowd, who helped former president George W. Bush win two elections to the White House and is now an independent analyst. Dowd sees an extremely difficult road ahead for Perry, owing to the impressions he made four years ago.

Asked about Perry’s prospects of becoming the GOP nominee, Dowd said: “I wouldn’t say impossible but very difficult. . . . The caricature has been made of him, and it’s hard to get out of it.”

The second is by Matt Rhoades who, as Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, competed against Perry. He told Balz that people are foolish to write off the former governor as an afterthought in the nomination battle. Rhoades added:

Gov. Perry has worked hard and done the right things to reposition himself for a run in 2016. I believe his candidacy will have a major impact on the primary and voters will give him a second chance.

This assessment seems closer to the mark. If Perry shines in debates and on talk shows, his reversal of form will become a story in the campaign. Even, if he simply holds his own, his difficulties in 2012 will be largely overlooked.

The problem Perry faces is more about 2016 than 2012. Last time out, Perry had a niche all to himself — the successful governor with a solidly conservative record.

This time, that niche is filled by, at a minimum, Scott Walker — a younger, more attractive candidate. If Walker falters, Perry may will have to compete for this niche with Bobby Jindal (younger, but regarded as less successful) and perhaps others.

In 2012, Perry was also, in my view, the most plausible competitor for the vote of the conservative base. Newt Gingrich carried too much baggage; Rick Santorum was underfunded, started from way back in pack, and as a Senator had taken positions that left him vulnerable to the charge of “big government conservatism.”

This time the base has more attractive options. They include Walker, Ted Cruz, and possibly Ben Carson.

In addition, the current field contains a wild card — Marco Rubio. If Republicans overlook his alliance with Chuck Schumer on behalf of amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the Florida Senator might well become the front-runner. That’s a big “if,” or should be. But there was no one like Rubio in the 2012 field.

To summarize, in 2012, a place in the top two was Perry’s to lose. In 2016, he will be required to excel just to gain a place in the top four or five.

Finally, a word about the ridiculous, politically-driven “criminal” charge against Perry. Most Republicans will, I believe, either ignore this matter or sympathize with the former Texas governor because of it, and understandably so.

However, we should keep in mind that Hillary Clinton’s corruption provides the GOP with a significant talking point, and probably a slight advantage, in the general election. If Perry were to face Hillary Clinton in the general election with legal problems still hanging over him ( it’s not clear that this matter will be resolved by next summer), that advantage would likely be lost.

Even so, if Perry does well in debates and the talk shows, he will be high on my list of preferred candidates. A record of successful governance and solid conservatism across-the-board should count for plenty.