Not since Superman has a fella made such a big impression when he took of his eyeglasses. Turns out, the sexy new specs were a disguise all along. This is the Rick Perry we thought we were getting in 2012 before he crashed and burned onstage. But he’s back, baby, and if he can keep it up it just might be change Republicans can believe in.
We should have known better. The doddering fool who made goo-goo faces at maple syrup in New Hampshire and who couldn’t count to three in Iowa was not the bully who accused both Tony Sanchez and Bill White of complicity in the murders of law enforcement officers. Watching Perry get whipsawed by the children of a lesser God was like seeing your abusive stepfather get laid out by a dad in Dockers at a PTA meeting. After “oops,” we thought maybe the old guy had lost it. If he had not been wearing special orthopedics instead of his usual boots we would not have believed he knew how to tie his shoes.
So we indulged his attempt at redemption, told him he looked cool in his new black-rimmed eyewear even though he kiiiinda looked like a guy who was a little too old to be rolling up to the club, bless his heart. He traveled the country, staying out of our way as we focused on the campaign to replace him. Perry’s feeble war of words with California Gov. Jerry Brown seemed more like an audition for HBO’s “Veep” than a prelude to an actual run for the presidency. It all felt like a long goodbye.
Because after all, who did he think he was kidding? No one gets a second chance after such a horrible first impression. Dan Quayle was always going to be dumb forevermore, and he never stumblebummed like Perry, who got swallowed by his own sound bites. That guy doesn’t get a comeback, does he?
Perry didn’t care if we didn’t take him seriously. He took himself seriously. He called for “a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas” at the Conservative Political Action Conference, studied up on foreign affairs, and even attended the World Economic Forum in Davos.
While we were focusing on his new glasses, his old vision cleared up. When the President fumbled the border crisis by thinking a photo op was beneath his dignity, Perry saw opportunity. He posed for pictures, pointing an assault rifle at the border in one, holding a big ol’ gun in a helicopter in another. He sent troops to the border to protect us from the oncoming hordes of children, but instead of looking craven and pathetic he looked vital and reborn. Suddenly—hello, sailor!—he was riling the up the crowds in Iowa, saying if the President wasn’t going to secure the border then Texas would.
Then came the indictment, and Perry carpe’d the living heck out the diem. Despite an impressive amount of evidence to the contrary, Perry won the news cycle and owned the conventional wisdom by calling the whole thing a “farce” and a political assassination attempt, and a failed one at that. Richard Sherman didn’t crow that much, and at least he waited until after the game.
His mug shot was more like a selfie. The only thing criminal about it was how good he looked. He ditched the glasses and looked like himself again, self-assured with a side order of smug. And because taking the perfect mug shot was not enough, he took his staff out for frozen custard and tweeted about it. On what would be the worst day in most people’s lives, Perry was a man confident in his own resurrection. He is better at politics that we are, and he looks better at 64 than most men do in their 40s.
Maybe Perry isn’t another Quayle but a modern-day Richard Nixon. Texas Democrats won’t have Perry to kick around anymore (unless we get called for jury duty), but that doesn’t mean we won’t get another chance to vote against him. If he keeps this up, he can ride this indictment all the way to the Republican nomination in 2016.
(Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.)