It looks like everything is aligned for Rick Perry to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016.
He’ll be a 14-year retired governor of a prosperous state with a long list of accomplishments following on a former Senator who has demonstrated difficulty managing the federal government. He can start his campaign early this time and has his back condition under control (so no pain, or painkillers). He’s run for president once before — a tried and true way to build name recognition. And there’s been a Texan on the ticket in six of the last 14 presidential cycles — and there were two in 1988. He’s a prodigious fundraiser, tapping into Texas wealth like no other.
But Perry faces a Texas-sized obstacle: …Oops.
The fateful 80 seconds on stage at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. in November 2011, when Perry forgot the name of the 15,000-person Cabinet agency responsible for the safeguarding of nuclear materials that he planned to eliminate, marked the final straw for a Perry campaign that had been struggling from the start. Out of the gate he threatened Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. His book questioned the constitutionality of Social Security. There was that unusual speech in New Hampshire where a seemingly impaired candidate made wild hand gestures and facial expressions. His campaign team was plagued by divisions and internal strife. The impression all this left is the most daunting challenge for Perry as he weighs another run for the White House in 2016.
“The problem he has in a presidential, is that all of the voters in the early states don’t live in Texas,” former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt told TIME. “His successes are remote to them. What’s lasting is the terrible first impression.”
Masking that indelible image of a know-nothing candidate will take time. “It’s going to require an enormous effort,” Schmidt said. The question is whether Perry decides to invest the resources to make it happen.
Perry’s decision not to seek another term avoided a potential primary fight with the better-funded Attorney General Greg Abbott, but represents a correction from one of his most significant mistakes.
Perry entered the 2012 race in August 2011 a day after the Iowa Straw Poll left him with little time to prepare or fundraise and a debilitating back problem that required medication and made travel and long appearances troublesome. Now Perry has said he will announce his intentions for 2016 by the end of the year, making him one of the earliest entrants if he decides to run — time he will need to rehabilitate his national image.
“Any future considerations I will announce in due time, and I will arrive at that decision appropriately,” Perry said Monday.
“I think Perry’s biggest problem in 2012 was lack of time to prepare and lack of national experience. Now he would have both,” said former Romney senior strategist Stuart Stevens, who savaged Perry in the Republican primary. “If he had a couple of impressive debate performances, he would go a long way to redefining his ability to be a serious contender.”
Despite the markedly tougher prospective 2016 field—Rubio, Christie, Paul, Bush—Stevens believes Perry is undervalued.
“The press over-bought Perry in 2012 and I think they are underselling now,” he added.
Two years ago when Perry was making his decision to run, Washington was convinced he’d quickly become a potent challenger. Now, Perry’s name is the butt of jokes. But Schmidt says if Perry can mitigate his first impression, the timing is right for him in 2016.
“The next presidential race is always an answer to the incumbent,” he said. “The notion that you want a young and inexperienced senator just defies history and what the Republican primary is going to be about.”