Reading into Gov. Perry's book tour

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) celebrated winning an unprecedented third term last week by releasing a new book, Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, and embarking on a media tour to promote it.

He’s appeared on several news shows — including the “Today” show, “Morning Joe,” “Fox and Friends,” “Glenn Beck,” “Parker & Spitzer,” the Fox Business Channel, “The Daily Show” and “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren” — sat down with a gaggle of reporters at a breakfast in Washington, and spoken at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

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The question on everyone’s mind: Is Perry just trying to sell a book, or is he trying to sell himself as a presidential contender?

Perry has claimed consistently that he has no interest in a bid. But he’s been surrounded by White House buzz since the summer of 2009, when there was talk he was running for reelection merely to serve as a springboard for a presidential campaign. A close confidant of Perry’s told The New York Times last December that he expected the governor to “immediately begin the campaign for president” if he were elected to a third term, which makes him the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

Perry’s appeal to the Tea Party was sterling after he made a splash by claiming Texas might respond to Washington overreach by seceding from the union, a point which could make him a strong contender for the 2012 GOP nomination.

As governor, he’s presided over a strong economy in a time of national downturn, and, hailing from a big state, he has the connections to raise the kind of money necessary for a presidential bid.

Perry has denied interest but, even in the heat of the election, wouldn’t commit to serving out a full third term.

“[That’s] up to the good Lord. I don’t try to outguess him. For me, my intention is obviously to serve out the full four years,” he said.

Perry began to change his tune during the general-election campaign, however.

He repeatedly said he had no interest in going to Washington, except “maybe to go to a museum,” but continued to nationalize his message during a state election, raising the suspicion of pundits that he was angling for a bigger stage.

Remaining governor while branching out into national affairs is politically lucrative. It enables him to cast himself as an outsider while selling a message that keeps him nationally relevant. And — more than anything — that’s the tune he’s been dancing to on the book tour, to sometimes eyebrow-raising effects.

When asked last week about a run for president, Perry responded:

“If there is a better signal of my plans for the future of not running for the presidency, it’s this book. Anyone running for the presidency is not going to go take on these issues with the power that I do.”

Despite his sentiment, Perry really is selling some big ideas with big political implications.

Throughout the tour, he’s floated letting states opt out of Social Security, which he said might be a “very wise thing” and, at the very least, should be part of the public debate. He even took the message to the upper reaches of GOP leadership, sitting down with presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Saturday and calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.”

Perry isn't a stranger to bold ideas — in a remarkable concession to consistency that challenged party orthodoxy, Perry claimed last year that national tort reform violated his understanding of the 10th Amendment. And this week, he weighed in on potential 2012 rival Mitt Romney’s healthcare program in Massachusetts, comparing it unfavorably with President Obama’s and calling it a “major anchor unless he stands up and repudiates that approach.” His bipartisan attack approach continued as he slammed former President George W. Bush’s “big government” policies — even as the former president is selling his own book.

All of this means Rick Perry is stepping out onto the national scene in a big way. The first real test of his intentions might come at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference and attendant straw poll, which will likely be teeming with presidential prospects. If he shows, can he connect with the audience, and will his name appear on the straw poll?


—Heinze is the founder of GOP12.com.