Can Rick Perry ride all the way to the White House?
Charles Laurence reports on a pistol-packing Texas Republican who could give Obama a run for his money
Rick Perry comes riding out of Texas into the Republican presidential fray like George Dubya Bush with a bigger hat, bigger boots, and bigger mouth.
He had the Republican leadership conference in New Orleans swooning over the weekend, although he is not yet a declared candidate for 2012. Wish-list campaign buttons for Perry outsold those of rivals whose hats are actually in the ring. His "kick-ass speech" had the gathered faithful chanting "Run, Rick, run."
Yesterday the veteran campaign strategist Dave Carney, freshly defected to Perry's team from failing rival Newt Gingrich, put the odds at 50/50 that Perry, 61 years old, 6ft plus and chin-out handsome, will heed the call. His coiffeur is so good that he is known as Governor Good Hair.
As the former lieutenant-governor of Texas, he took over from Governor Bush when he quit for the White House in 2000, and has since become the Lone Star State's longest serving governor.
When he took office, he promised that "you are not going to see a great philosophical difference between George Bush and Rick Perry".
Perry has been a US Air Force pilot and carries his own pistol with a laser-dot sight when he goes jogging. He once used it to shoot a passing coyote.
The twin bases of today's Republican party - the Tea Party and the Religious Right - are falling in love with him. It goes without saying that he is anti-abortion and gay marriage.
Last year he told a Tea Party rally that he was ready for Texas to secede from the Union if President Obama fulfilled his "burning desire" to turn America into a socialist state. For the churchgoers, he has declared August 6 a Prayer and Fasting Day in Texas.
Perry is booted, saddled and ready to run. Democrats who regard the Dubya years as a nightmare are grasping for crumbs of comfort in the idea that, in the Texas idiom, he is "all hat and no cattle" - style without substance.
Bush may have been a Yankee in cowboy boots, but you can't question Perry's credentials as a Texan. His family goes back five generations and Perry was born on a ranch without running water near the cattle town of Abilene. He went into the cotton growing business with his father after leaving the air force and married his high school sweetheart. They are still married, and have two children.
But politically his critics have a point. There is, for instance, no record of Perry holding any foreign policy views whatsoever, and however demonic Washington may be to American conservatives, it is indisputably responsible for war and foreign affairs.
He has been so uninterested in America's role in the world that when he said that "as someone who has visited Israel numerous times, I know that it is impractical to revert to 1967 lines" the Economist took it as a signal that he was about to leap into the race and was hurriedly preparing a presidential foreign policy stance. It seems to have been his first recorded comment on foreign affairs.
But to the Republican faithful who vote in the primaries, Perry has earned the core credentials. Amid national economic gloom, Texas is the only state in the union which is booming, and it is booming the Republican way.
As a hired gun for business, Perry has pursued rigorous free-market policies. There are no income taxes, no unions, no environmental regulations and very few business ones. Corporate taxes are as low as wages. Houston and Dallas are growing fast as businesses move in to take advantage, and Mexican immigrants pour in to take jobs.
The Wall Street Journal enthusiastically reports that Perry would bring this corporate paradise to the nation, with policies including closing the departments of environment and energy altogether, the grail of oil men and free-market deregulators.
Perry could well be holding the trump card: Texas jobs are mostly minimum wage, but they are available. Only last week, opinion polls were recording Americans fretting that the American Dream was over. Perry is telling the truth when he boasts that more than a third of jobs created in the last two years of slump have been created in Texas.
And he knows how to pitch. Perry told the crowd in New Orleans that he stood "united with you in the desire to restore our nation and revive the American dream".
However old fashioned it seems, that is a message that could run all the way to the White House, and Perry is the most likely Republican so far to carry it. ·
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