Rick Perry has been slapped with many nicknames since he entered politics back in the mid-eighties, but “thought leader” has never been one of them.
Since his epic “oops” moment ended his 2012 presidential ambitions, Perry has seemed determined to change the perception he was just another Texan who was all swagger and no substance.
And his efforts go beyond his hipster-approved, dark-rimmed glasses.
As the former governor—who majored in animal husbandry—addressed Republican activists in New Hampshire this afternoon, his comments were a curious blend of red-meat talking points and wonk name-dropping.
The audience of Granite State conservatives who listened to him over their lunches of soggy stuffed shells and green beans probably didn’t include too many monetary policy enthusiasts—but that didn’t stop Perry. His remarks were practically footnoted with references to the academic legwork he’s been doing since his ill-fated bid.
“I spent the last three years in that mode,” he said of his study sessions.
He said he focused on, “being able to stand up and discuss all of these issues and do it in a way that is very profound and impactful, and sitting down—from the Hoover Institute to the Brookings Institute and everything in between.”
Perry seemed delighted to share that he’d spent time “sitting with Richard Fisher and Jim Rickards at the same table, which was rather interesting, to talk monetary policy.”
Recalling the memory, he gave a knowing chuckle. Noone else in the room seemed to get the joke.
Apparently Fisher and Rickards—the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the chief global strategist of West Shore Funds, respectively—don’t have particularly high name ID in New Hampshire.
But that doesn’t matter.
Perry has had a million meetings, and he wanted to share them all.
Perry jumped into the presidential contest for the first time just a few months after the Texas state legislature finished its session in 2011 (those sessions only come every two years), and just one month after back surgery—that turned out to have a tougher recovery time than he had expected.
From the moment he declared in August 2011, he was the center of attention.
So when he headed to the debate stage with paltry preparation to talk about national issues, it wasn’t pretty.
This time may be different. Now that he’s out of the governor’s mansion, Perry has the time to prepare and refine his pitch to voters.
It might not matter; the “oops” video will be omnipresent if he becomes a top contender, and much of that damage is as irrevocable as it is amusing.
Still, hitting the books seems to be paying off, at least among academics.
James Carafano, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, has met with the governor and said he found him impressive.
“It was really good, he was really thoughtful,” Carafano said.
“He wasn’t like, ‘Well I haven’t heard of that,’” he added. “It was generally what you would hope for. I don’t expect the president to be an expert on all these issues.”
And Brooke Rollins, who helms the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and worked for Perry’s administration from 2001 to 2003, said he has inundated Austin with policy experts.
“He’s flown a lot of people in over the last couple years and spent hours upon hours and days upon days with some of the country’s and really the world’s best experts,” she said.
“This is not a johnny-come-lately effort,” she added.
And, per Rollins, things were very different in 2011. Perry made the decision to run for the first time with much less forethought, and he didn’t do nearly the same amount of prep work.
“It all happened very, very quickly,” she said.
So now Perry is bending over backwards to let New Hampshire Republican primary voters know that this time, he’s studied up. It might not help, as the Real Clear Politics average of 2016 Republican primary polls gives him a dinky 2.8 percent average.
But at least he’s learning.