Sizing Up Rick Perry

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Other-Michael’s swell piece on Rick Perry is a reminder that a GOP presidential race which feels well underway may be in for a complete reboot before long. And while we know some things about Perry, he remains under-covered in proportion to the enthusiasm a lot of Republican establishment insiders feel about him. That’s why this rundown of key Perry facts by Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka is so helpful. In particular, Burka’s thoughts about the difference between Perry and George W. Bush jumped out at me:

Don’t assume that because Bush and Perry served together in the Capitol, or because they’re both Republican Texans who wear boots, the two men have a lot in common. They don’t. As governor, Bush positioned himself as “a uniter, not a divider,” championing education as one of his main priorities. Perry has been the opposite kind of chief executive: dismissive of Democrats and fond of political maneuvers that put the heat on moderates within his own party. And in the legislative session that just wrapped up, he presided over a budget that cut $4 billion from public schools. The cultural differences are striking too. Perry, the son of a Big Country cotton farmer, is at ease with a populist tea party message; W., the scion of a political dynasty, always seemed more comfortable with the country club set.

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That suggests to me that Perry will indeed be a strong contender for the GOP nomination. It’s not clear that the George W. Bush of 1999-2000 could become the Republican nominee in today’s climate. But it also suggests that, as some critics contend, Perry could face a tough time in a general election. Victory does seem to lie in the center, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney clearly believe. And if Perry accentuates a hard-driving partisan record to win the nomination, it will only be harder for him to find the middle in 2012.

P.S. Is Perry such a lock for the nomination? A prominent Republican strategist recently argued to me that Perry could find himself in a kind of limbo between wings of the party:

If you’re establishment, wouldn’t you go with Romney anyway? And if you’re Tea Party, aren’t you likely to go with Bachmann or Cain? For that very reason [Perry] may be a threat to nobody.

(MORE: Behind the Scenes, Christian Right Leaders Rally Behind Rick Perry)

The flip side, which Perry is banking on, is that someone who can successfully straddle the two worlds might be unstoppable.