Rick Perry Won’t Run for Re-Election For Texas Governor in 2014 (But for President in 2016?)

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Amid great (political junkie) fanfare, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made his long anticipated announcement that some felt might include a declaration that he’ll run for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. In the end, Perry announced he won’t run for a fourth term as Texas Governor — but certain left the door wide open to run for President so wide that you could catch pneumonia.

Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas and an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate in 2012, announced that he would not seek another term in Austin but would instead “pray and reflect and work to determine my own future path.”

“The time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership,” Mr. Perry told a crowd of supporters in a cavernous heavy equipment dealership here. “Today I am announcing I will not seek re-election as governor of Texas.”

As for what happens after his term is over in 18 months, he said he would remain focused on the state. He made no mention of a presidential run in 2016, but instead extolled the advances Texas had made under his leadership since 2000.

Standing on a temporary dais against a backdrop of American and Texas flags, Mr. Perry said, “It’s been an improbable journey that has taken me from a farm in this place called Paint Creek, Texas, to the governor’s office, and each day has been an honor.”

He faced a friendly crowd of longtime supporters and employees of Holt Cat, a Caterpillar dealership. The owner, Peter Holt, also owns the San Antonio Spurs and is a major contributor to Mr. Perry’s campaigns.

A lot of the speech was the kind of self-congratulatory boiler-plate typical of a Governor touting the things he believes were good about his term in office (things about which political foes and independent analysts almost invariably tend to disagree). But The Christian Science Monitor’s Decoder Wire notes some signals that it’s likely Perry will want to be a player in 2016:

Governor Perry didn’t say explicitly that he plans to run for president in 2016. But his remarks in San Antonio might as well have been his opening campaign speech. We heard about his humble origins in Paint Creek, Texas. We heard his case for the Texas economy during his 14 years as chief executive, including 1.6 million jobs created and seven balanced budgets.

And we heard a dig against the federal government, always a good move when you’re running for the Republican presidential nomination.

“We’ve stood strong against unwise policies from Washington that would bust the bank,” such as expansions of unemployment insurance and Medicaid, Perry said.

Perry also said he would “truly miss serving in this capacity” (emphasis added) – a signal, perhaps, that he wasn’t done serving, just getting ready to finish serving as governor of Texas.

Less than two hours after Perry’s speech began, a press release went out from the website, RickPerry.org, touting his record as governor and linking to his speech and a transcript.

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Other clues have emerged pointing to a likely do-over for Perry as a presidential candidate, following his less-than-impressive attempt in the 2012 cycle. For example, he’s just rehired his former presidential campaign communications director, Mark Miner.

Not long after the 2012 election, Perry himself suggested that he would run again.

“It was an extraordinary experience – I mean, one that I wouldn’t trade,” he told a Texas tea party group last December. “And looking back on it … I would do it again.”

Can he get the nomination next time, if he wants it? To be sure, political history is filled with cases of people who missed the brass ring the first time (such as Ronald Reagan). But I agree totally with Jonathan Bernstein:

And it’s hard to believe that the reason that [Perry not getting the nomination in 2012] didn’t happen was because of loyalty to, let alone enthusiasm for, Mitt Romney.

So the question becomes: if various flavors of Republican party actors weren’t interested in 2012, against Romney, why would they be interested in 2016 against presumably three or four candidates who have better records of conservative orthodoxy than Romney could ever get?

That’s not a rhetorical question. There may be an answer. Perhaps the debates really did scare people off who would be willing to jump on this time if Perry does well in the early debates. Perhaps Perry’s deviations on abortion (the vaccine) and immigration, small as they seemed, mattered more to people than Romney’s huge past-tense violations. Perhaps there really is something to the “wait for your turn” thing among Republicans. Perhaps Perry’s health issues hurt his campaigning in general in ways that could be forgotten if he does well over the next couple of years.

But my guess is that while he’s certainly viable, his failure in 2012 is telling us something about his 2016 candidacy, and that he’s not all that likely to emerge from the pack this time around.

On the other hand, Ed Kilgore does make sense with his slightly more upbeat assessment of Perry’s chances:

It must have been hard for Perry to deal with this enormous missed opportunity, and easy for him to explain it away as the product of this or that single mistake or stroke of bad luck (or sleep deprivation). And besides, from all indications Perry has a very large ego, and understandably does not want to be remembered—along with John Connally, Lloyd Bentsen, and Phil Gramm—as yet another dismally unsuccessful Texas-based presidential candidate.

It’s not so easy to see Perry’s path to the GOP nomination in 2016. He may have to deal with an intrastate rival, Ted Cruz, who excites conservatives at home and everywhere else immensely more than the Perry. Cruz and Chris Christie can outdo Perry at macho bluster; Rand Paul has a far more devoted following; there’s no obvious “Establishment front-runner” to which Perry could pose as an alternative; and virtually everyone on the Mentioned list of 2016 candidates looks a lot smarter than the Texas governor (i.e., there’s no parade of clown-car candidates like Bachmann, Cain and Gingrich to lend Perry some comparative gravitas).

Still, nobody, not even Rick Santorum, quite has the Christian Right seal of approval as much as Perry does, which he is currently burnishing in his state legislature’s battle over his effort to shut down most of the abortion clinics in Texas. And let’s don’t forget that prior to his 2012 crash, Perry had a reputation as one of the luckiest pols in America. Maybe he figures he’s paid his dues and is now poised to resume his upward career trajectory to the very top.

In the meantime? If Perry isn’t running for Governor again but wants to get the Republican nomination look for him to do whatever he has to do to play to the most conservative elements in the Republican Party base even more than he’s doing now.

If that is even possible.