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Perry 2016? It Would Take an Act of God

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PHOTO BY FORREST WILDER

Satan runs across the world with his doubt and with his untruths and what have you, and one of the untruths out there that is driven is that people of faith should not be involved in the public arena.—Rick Perry, September 19, 2012

You had to know that our long national nightmare wasn’t over quite yet. To the untrained eye, when Rick Perry dropped out of the race last January, he appeared to be damaged goods. The governor had run such a lousy and inexperienced campaign that he made Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain look positively presidential. So when Perry declared in August that he would “absolutely” consider another run, Texas pundits awoke from their self-induced slumber and began feverishly working on their Perry-in-2016 stories which, if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, will have to be repackaged into Perry-in-2020 stories. For whatever reason, journalists have created a carefully crafted myth around our governor that if the man could just form coherent sentences and take a refresher course on the American Revolution, he could win.

In order to run in 2016, however, Perry first has to win another term as governor so that he can run on his “record,” such as it is. A Texas Lyceum poll released last week found that only 29 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for him, despite the fact that he currently enjoys a 56 percent approval rating. Two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters said they would first want to see who else is running. Like, anyone else.

Let’s assume for the moment that the man who Perry derided as a “Vulture Capitalist” (a Mormon, no less!) loses in November and Perry, buoyed by his loyal team of advisers and his personal yet extremely public relationship with Jesus Christ, decides to give it another go. Why would this time be any different? As I wrote in The Atlantic after Perry reluctantly “suspended” his campaign, it turned out that the problem was never about underestimating our good governor. It was overestimating him. Not even the tea party could save him, if they had wanted to. But perhaps there was a valid—even compelling—reason. According to a revealing new book by the Texas Tribune’s Jay Root, Oops! A Diary From the 2012 Campaign Trail, Perry advisers claimed that the reason their candidate performed so poorly is because he suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea. (Perry later explained that it “probably wasn’t a good diagnosis.” In other words, he really was just that bad.)

That said, Perry’s presidential campaign always looked and felt more like an evangelical prayer rally on steroids than a serious bid for the White House. Remember “The Response?” The declarations for days of prayer and fasting? His infamous ad decrying President Obama’s “war on religion” and support for gay members in the military? Despite the dubious outcome of running on his conservative religious credentials last time, there’s absolutely no sign that Perry would do it any different the next time around, if there is one. Speaking to Christian conservatives last month Perry declared that the separation of church and state is “the devil’s work” and spoke of the dire need to rally “Christian warriors and Christian soldiers.”

During the campaign Perry told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he can “no more remove my faith than I can that I’m the son of a tenant farmer.” Without his religious fervor, what exactly does Perry have to offer, aside from his unwavering beliefs that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, evolution is just a theory, secession is good, socialism is bad and debates should never, ever be televised?

For Perry to be taken seriously as a candidate in 2016, he would have to spend the next four years generating actual ideas and policies—or else figure out how to make his empty rhetoric seem more convincing, which would save a lot of time and effort. How could he possibly do that serving an unprecedented fourth term as governor in a state that values religious conservatism above all else? Rick Perry may very well be suited up for another war on religion but whether or not the Christian warriors—those same evangelicals who ended up backing Rick Santorum—will follow him into battle is another matter entirely.