Rick Perry is primed to announce his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Saturday in South Carolina. TIME’s Mark Halperin caught up with the Texas governor in Austin and asked him about his feelings on a White House run, his conservative credentials and his rumored rocky relationship with the Bushes. Lightly edited highlights from their conversation follow:
Mark Halperin: Is there an open question as to whether you want to run for President?
Rick Perry: We’re having that conversation. I mean, you and I having this conversation has answered that question.
About whether you want to run?
Sure. I mean, I wouldn’t be this far into the process … The issue of, Is this what I want to do? was dealt with about 45 days ago in a conversation with my wife. Prior to that, no. Being the President of the United States was not on my radar screen from the standpoint of something I wanted to do.
(PHOTOS: Rick Perry’s Life and Career in Politics)
Does any aspect of running for President intimidate you?
Does any aspect of it excite you or enthuse you?
Yeah. I’m kind of getting to the haul-in point, and the idea that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, this is starting to get to that comfort level, and I’ve got the calmness in my heart. I think that was a bit of a hurdle initially, but I’m very calm in my heart that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Some look at your endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and positions you’ve taken on immigration and conclude that you’re not as conservative as you say. How do you reply to those people?
I stand on my record. I thought Mayor Giuliani did a wonderful job of managing a city. He was very strong militarily. He was as strong on crime as any big-city mayor has ever been. He and I were 180 degrees [apart] on social issues, but he would put strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, which dealt with those social issues. I happen to be comfortable that I was making the right decision and that as President, when it comes to those social issues, it’s very important to have that strict constructionist view from whom you put on the Supreme Court. Because they’d look at the Constitution and say, You know what? That issue dealing with abortion is not in the Constitution. We will put it back to the states. Now, if the states want to pass an amendment, and three-quarters of the states want to pass an amendment, to make this a change to our United States Constitution, then just follow that process. And I’m a big believer that that’s how our country should work.
A generation ago, Republican presidential candidates, Ronald Reagan in particular, competed coast to coast. New Jersey and California are now states that are reliably Democratic. If you run, would you aspire to campaign in California and try to win it in the general election?
Yes sir, I actually have had that conversation. Now, I’m enough of a realist to know that California is a pretty high hurdle for a Republican. But I’m going to go out there and I’m going to have a story that’ll [make] a lot of people — independents and maybe even some Democrats — look at me and go, “That’s the type of individual that we can get behind … to make America proud of itself again.” I think America is an exceptional country. I think we have a great story to tell. I think the world needs a strong America both economically and militarily.
Have you talked to George W. Bush about what it’s like to run?
Yeah. We had lots of conversations back when he was the President. I called him … early in this process, when this thing was just kind of popping around. I called him on his birthday on July the 6th just to wish him a happy birthday. And I guess it was just kind of starting to bubble up around the first of July, as I recall, and he said, “You’ll do what’s right.” He said that you don’t want to wake up when you’re 70 and go, “I wish I had tried that. I wish I had done that.”
Is there tension between, if not you and Bush, the Perry political family and Bush?
Not from my perspective, and certainly not between George W. Bush and me. And frankly, his dad, I mean, I got great respect for them. And the President 43 and I have a very good, personal, warm relationship. If there are people that were on his team in the past that haven’t agreed [with me] on policy or picked a different horse in a political race … Look back over my political career. If I chastised and removed everyone who’s been on the other side of me in a political race, I wouldn’t have any friends or helpers.
Updated, 4:51 p.m.