Despite Gaffes, Perry Could Prove Formidable Contender

Unlike the other social conservatives running for president, Rick Perry has actually governed.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, March 19
Former Texas governor Rick Perry speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, March 19 (StumpSource/J. Alex Cooney)

Former Texas governor Rick Perry announced on Thursday he would run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination again. Although he is best remembered for a number of gaffes committed the last time around, Perry could still prove a formidable contender.

His announcement comes a little over a week before former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the presumptive nominee, is expected to make his own candidacy official in Miami.

Whereas Bush is seen as a pragmatist and closer to the political center — despite boasting a solidly conservative record on business policy and taxes — Perry is a populist who appeals mainly to social conservatives. His reactionary views on culture-war issue like abortion and gay marriage should resonate with evangelical and Southern voters.

What makes Perry more credible than other social conservatives in the race, such as his state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, is that he has actually governed — successfully.

The New York Times reports that during Perry’s fifteen years as governor, “Texas created more than three out of each ten new American jobs and employment rose more than 2.2 million, a jump of nearly 25 percent. Nationally, payrolls increased just 6 percent over the same period.”

Even the left-leaning Vox admits that Texas is “a place where conservative policy ideas really have led to the kind of rapid economic growth Republicans like to brag about.”

Light regulations makes it easy and cheap to build homes in Texas while the absence of strong labor laws gives it a flexible jobs market (and a high rate of low-paid jobs). The state provides good infrastructure and keeps taxes low. While Perry was in office, the tax burden dropped from 14 to 12 percent of gross domestic product.

It is doubtful Americans across the country want to imitate Texas. But at least Perry realizes that Republicans need to give voters an alternative vision to President Barack Obama’s rather than stop at criticizing his administration.

“Let’s be clear about something,” he told conservatives earlier this year.

The American voters’ rejection of the Democrat policies does not mean they embraced Republicans. It is not good enough to state what we are just against.

Perry has the right attitude but isn’t always the best spokesman for conservatism. When he ran for president four years ago, he infamously failed to remember one of three departments of government he wanted to cut and alleged that NATO ally Turkey was ruled by “Islamic terrorists”.

Something else made him stand out at the time: his honest commentary about the future of Social Security, America’s public pension program.

During one of the primary debates, Perry said, “Young people who are paying into that expect that program to be sound and for them to receive benefits when they reach retirement age — that is just a lie.”

Without reform, the Social Security trust fund will be depleted at some point between 2036 and 2040. By that time, the annual payroll taxes that finance pensions will cover only 75 percent of benefits.

Americans under the age of 36 know that Perry was telling the truth. 76 percent of them told pollsters in 2012 they did not expect to ever draw a Social Security check.

Yet Perry was derided by Democrats and Republicans alike for suggesting that Social Security is in need of an overhaul. Most other candidates simply had nothing meaningful to say about what is America’s largest entitlement program. If Perry makes an issue out of Social Security reform again, he would add something valuable to the debate.

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