Texas Gov. Rick Perry: not yet a 2016 candidate, but sure sounding like one

Texas Gov. Rick Perry describes his 2012 presidential run as frustrating, painful, and humbling. 'Over the past 18 months, I have focused on being substantially better prepared.'

The Christian Science Monitor
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at a Monitor-hosted lunch with reporters on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Rick Perry hasn’t formally announced that he’s running for president in 2016. But during an hour-long press lunch Friday with the Republican governor of Texas, it’s clear he’s got the Oval Office in his sights.

Next time – if he runs – he’ll be more prepared, Governor Perry said. And he’s changed his exercise and footwear routines to make sure his back problems don’t return. But the memories of his presidential bid in 2012, when he suffered some embarrassing moments, clearly still burn bright.

“I’m glad I ran in 2012, as frustrating, as painful, and as humbling as that experience was,” Perry said at the luncheon, hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

“It was painful,” he repeats, pausing. “It was very humbling. And being prepared both physically and mentally is very important. I’m the classic example of a guy who thought – you know, I broke my arm when I was 17 and I figured, surely I can heal up in six weeks and be ready to go back in the game. That’s not necessarily the case.”

Perry had recently undergone back surgery when he started campaigning in August 2011. During a debate, he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he would close as president, uttering the most famous “oops” in campaign history. Another time, during a speech, he appeared giddy and rambling. Perry has denied he was on pain killers then.   

“Over the past 18 months, I have focused on being substantially better prepared,” Perry says. “Please don’t take that as an indication that I’ve made a decision on whether I’m going to run for the presidency or not. But if I do next year make that decision, I will be prepared, both from the standpoint of understanding the global impact of our foreign policy [and] economic policy, both domestically and internationally.”

Before any press questions, Perry framed his opening comments from a national perspective, not just Texas. And he made clear that the economy is his No. 1 issue.

“I don’t think there is a more important role for a chief executive – whether it’s a governor, a head of Boeing, or whether it’s president of the United States – than helping create a climate where people know that they can risk their capital, have a return on investment, and be able to create jobs, which in turn create the wealth of your entity,” said Perry, who is the longest-serving governor in Texas history and is not running for reelection in November.

Perry also spoke out on Texas border issues, amid a surge of unaccompanied children crossing into the US from Mexico. On Wednesday, state leaders ordered beefed up law enforcement on the border as they expressed dissatisfaction with federal immigration enforcement.

“This unaccompanied alien children issue, though, has the potential to be an absolute catastrophe, a humanitarian catastrophe,” Perry said.

“How are we going to actually house and take care of these young people, and then what is the administration’s role going to be?.… Are they going to send these young people back to their homes of record?” Perry asked.

The Texas governor blamed the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico for “allowing this to happen,” and said he considers it “a failure of diplomacy by the United States in working with those countries.”

On the larger issue of immigration, Perry made clear that reform can’t happen until the border is secure. And he wants the federal government to pay for it. Texas, he says, has spent more than $450 million over the last six years on border security.

“Frankly, I think immigration reform is down the list of things you have to do,” he says. “The American people do not trust the federal government until they secure the border.”

Perry also offered a harsh critique of Obama administration's energy policy, noting its failure to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and recent regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on coal-fired plants.

He dismissed concerns over man-made global warming.

"I don’t believe that we have the settled science, by any sense of the imagination, to stop that type of economic opportunity for this country," Perry said.  

When asked about possible issues the Republican Party perhaps ought not focus on, Perry alluded to his recent controversial remarks on homosexuality. Last week, in San Francisco, he suggested that homosexuality was like alcoholism.

"Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that," Perry said June 11 at the Commonwealth Club of California. "I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way."

At the Monitor lunch, Perry didn’t back away from the comment. But he tried to shift the focus back to his core issue.  

“Whether you’re gay or straight, you need to be having a job, and those are the focuses that I want to be involved with,” he said.

“But I admit it,” he added, “I stepped right in it.”  

“We’re an incredibly diverse mosaic of a country,” Perry said. “A lot of these issues need to be decided at the state level.”

As for his own lifestyle, Perry said he has changed his exercise routine to make sure his back stays healthy. He quit running, and now does core exercises: sit-ups, pull-ups, crunches, planks, and riding an indoor bike 45 minutes a day.

“Then I stopped wearing cowboy boots,” he adds, demonstrating with his hands how his feet (and thus his back) are now positioned differently.

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