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Rick Perry: A Great Candidate... On Paper

Today, Rick Perry announced that he wasn’t running for reelection as Texas governor, but didn’t say whether he would pursue the presidency in 2016. The possibility that he might run for president might seem ridiculous, since there’s one big problem with the idea of Rick Perry running for president: Rick Perry. But otherwise, he’d have a decent shot in a Republican primary—a decent enough shot that you can see why he’d take another jab at the nomination.

On paper, there’s not a more plausible Republican presidential primary hopeful than a Texas governor. Texas’ Republican Party is deeply conservative with a large evangelical population and an equally Republican business-class. If you can figure out how to become a Texas governor, you ought to be able to figure out how to become a Republican presidential nominee.

Anyone conservative enough to win a GOP primary in Texas will be more than conservative enough to win the GOP nomination. A Texas Republican can speak to the religious right and probably has a bit of a Texas twang, giving them an edge across the South. And they’ve raised the money necessary to compete in a huge state, which means they can speak the language of economic conservatism and have earned the trust and campaign contributions of Texas’ huge business class. That helps explain why George W. Bush cruised to the GOP nomination. It explains why Rick Perry still managed 10 percent of the vote in Iowa, even though he was a disastrously bad candidate. 

The Republicans have a number of strong contenders in 2016, but they don’t have anyone who comes with the trademark skills, appeal, or resources of a Texas governor. Among the top contenders, there isn’t a single non-Hispanic white, Southerner. So there's a real opening for Perry, if he was capable enough to fill it. In 2012, Rick Perry showed the charisma and charm to win a nomination.

But 2012 also raised real questions about whether Perry's capable or even intelligent enough to pull it off. That doesn't mean he couldn't win. Maybe his problems were correctable, related to inexperience or deficient preparation. But realistically, much of the problem was Rick Perry himself. If so, he's all but hopeless—despite positioning himself perfectly as a Republican governor from Texas.