Say what you will about Rick Perry, but the man can politic with the best of them.
Several days into the second special legislative session the Texas governor called to push through some of the toughest abortion legislation in the United States, and with Perry's announcement of "exciting future plans" coming on Monday, it is becoming increasingly clear that Wendy Davis is not the only individual who is winning political capital at the state capitol building in Austin. While the national media's focus has remained firmly on Davis, Rick Perry is quietly using the abortion debate to position himself for a second run at the Oval Office.
To become a national political figure of some consequence, Perry will have to run a serious campaign. That will require the ability to raise serious cash. How might he go about doing that? There is really only one way: Become Rick Perry, cultural warrior. And that is exactly what he is doing.
Ordinarily, Perry would not be taken seriously by the majority of the GOP's big donors when viewed alongside an excellent slate of candidates likely to include Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. After botching his first presidential campaign against a far weaker field, to have even the slightest chance of surviving deep into primary season, Perry needs to find a niche group with the energy, enthusiasm, and cash capable of single-handedly keeping him afloat.
Now, if Rick Perry really believed he could be president of the United States, he would never have called a special legislative session for the purposes of pushing through this abortion bill, much less two legislative sessions. Yes, virtually any GOP presidential candidate will need to be anti-abortion to secure the nomination (at least for now). But serious candidates rarely have been fire-breathers on this issue. They try to stick close to the middle so they don't turn off independent voters in the general election. Ronald Reagan was genuinely anti-abortion, but hardly devoted his presidency to a social agenda. George H.W. Bush was for abortion rights until Ronald Reagan made Bush change his position as a condition of putting him on the 1980 ticket. Bob Dole was… well, basically pro-abortion rights, although he proclaimed otherwise. George W. Bush, though certainly anti-abortion, focused his campaign on education and tax policy. John McCain didn't care then, and does not care now, about social issues. And Mitt Romney… well, Gov. Romney was also basically pro-abortion rights until it came time to run.
And yet, there are some candidates in the GOP primaries who survive on cultural issues alone. Particularly in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, being a cultural warrior is an asset, not a liability. That explains the successes of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in recent years.
That fact is not lost on Perry, which brings us back to the battle he is leading in Texas right now. It is highly likely that Perry is going to ram this legislation down the throats of Texas Democrats. While the courts will almost certainly immediately enjoin its operation pending further review, Perry will nevertheless have guaranteed that he will enter Iowa and New Hampshire with the best culture war record of any Republican in the campaign. That record almost certainly means that Perry will have many more opportunities to remember which federal agencies he plans to cut. It also means that, if he plays his cards right, he might be able to sneak his way onto someone's ticket as a concession to the right. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
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