The Right Aims at Texas
Boyer, Peter J., Newsweek
Byline: Peter J. Boyer
Behind the sudden conservative crush on Gov. Rick Perry--and why he's got Bush on the brain.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry met with NEWSWEEK for an interview in his office in the capitol last week, but before the first question was asked, he wanted to tell a story. Perry plopped his snakeskin-booted feet on the desk, held an imaginary cigar ("cee-gar") between his fingers, and assumed the persona of his predecessor, George W. Bush. One day in the winter of 2000, Perry recounted, when Bush was still the top dog in Texas, he summoned Perry, then the lieutenant governor, into his office for a chat. Bush was running for president by then, and was fully confident he'd win. " 'Perry,' he said, 'you're gonna love bein' governor.
It's the greatest job in the world.' "
One evening 18 months later, Perry was working late in the governor's office when he received a call from the White House. Bush and Perry hadn't been especially close, and on those occasions when Bush telephoned, he usually got right to the point and hung up. But this night, Bush kept talking for half an hour and more, asking Perry all about the latest Austin scuttlebutt. Perry thought the president seemed lonely. "We were wrapping up the conversation, and he said, 'Hey, Perry, you remember that conversation we had in the governor's office about a year and a half ago, and I told you that being the governor of Texas was the greatest job in the world?'?" Perry said he remembered it vividly. "Well," Bush said, "it is."
Perry has had Bush on his mind lately, for a reason. The Republican base, unenthused by the party's field of 2012 presidential contenders, seems to long for a candidate with less baggage than Newt Gingrich, less squish than Mitt Romney, and more magnetism than Tim Pawlenty. Recently, the right's hot crush has been the archconservative governor of Texas, the man with the square jaw, thick mane, and a Ruger he takes with him when he goes for a jog.
After long denying any interest in a presidential run, he opened the door just a crack, telling NEWSWEEK that he'd think about entering the presidential race once the Texas legislative session ends this week. Whether he follows Bush's path to Washington or, heeding 43's wistful advice, decides to stay put, Perry's star turn shows a party still longing for a savior. It may well be that Perry was just playing to Texas, relishing the national attention as he pushed his policy agenda across the finish line in Austin.
This year's legislature, under Perry's cajoling, delivered on some of the right's most cherished ambitions: a law requiring doctors to run a fetal sonogram before performing an abortion, a measure requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polling booth, and a version of loser-pays tort reform. But the action that really has conservatives looking to Texas with longing was a budget deal that covered a revenue shortfall through spending cuts, without raising taxes or touching the state's $9.4 billion rainy-day fund.
The Dallas Morning News editorialized against the "mean Texas budget," noting that the spending cuts came at the expense of education, veterans, and care for the state's neediest. Perry is unmoved. "Texas has made the hard decisions. Twice while I've been the governor, we've had budget shortfalls, once in '03 and this time. We've made the decision: reduce your spending, don't raise taxes. And the recovery that occurs after that is pretty substantial."
Indeed, the Lone Star State's economic success over the last decade has been notable. Since 2001 (roughly the tenure of Perry, the longest-serving Texas governor) the state has gained more than 730,000 jobs. In contrast, California, Texas's antithesis in political culture and a favorite Perry rhetorical foil, has lost more than 600,000 jobs in the same period (and is on course to lose more jobs this year than last). …