By Amie Parnes - 07/09/14 07:10 PM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has seen thousands of unaccompanied children flood across his state’s border, has seized the spotlight in recent days to become the national face of opposition to President Obama’s immigration policies.
Perry, Texas’s governor for the last 14 years and a politician with his eye on the White House, has helped Republicans rally around calls for the National Guard to be sent to the border.
Perry’s persistent cries led the White House to invite him to an immigration-specific meeting in Dallas on Wednesday. It has also positioned the governor as a foil of sorts to Obama, helping to secure a spot for the governor should he choose to make a second run for the presidency in 2016.
“This gives Gov. Perry an opportunity to take very legitimate and timely shots at the White House and the president’s failed leadership and philosophy to tour his expertise in border security and get to the heart of the immigration issue,” said Raymond Sullivan, a former adviser to Perry.
“I think it positions himself as someone who is fighting the president,” added Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist based in Austin, Texas. “That’s what Republicans want, and more importantly, what Republican voters want.”
“He really had the president on defense,” Mackowiak continued. “I think he outflanked him strategically.”
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer fired back at that notion on Twitter Wednesday.
“Perry’s win or loses (sic) are never the framework for decision making at the White House,” Pfeiffer wrote.
The crisis at the border has also provided Perry with the opportunity to change his image on immigration, an issue that hurt him during his 2012 run for the White House, when conservatives saw him as too soft.
Perry’s support for a bill that offered people who entered the country illegally as children the same in-state tuition rates as Texas residents led him to describe critics of the bill as “heartless,” a statement that hurt him with conservative primary voters.
“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no reason than they’ve been brought there, by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said during one primary debate in September 2011. “I still support it greatly.”
Ironically, it’s a wave of children now crossing the border that Perry is seizing on to criticize Obama’s immigration policies.
Political observers expect Perry to continue to seize on the issue in the months leading up to a presidential run. “He will use it,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “It will benefit him in Texas, and it will benefit him nationally.”
Those close to Perry, maintain that the governor has been a vociferous opponent of the federal government and its border security failures all along. “His warnings and alarms, which have been ignored in Washington, are proving to be accurate,” said Sullivan. “The red flags that he’s been waving for years are now headlines across the country.
“Politically,” Sullivan added, “it’s an opportunity for the governor to talk very seriously about a public policy issue he knows a lot about. It’s an opportunity for him to be front and center on an issue he’s very knowledgeable about.
But while the crisis on the border could help Perry reset his immigration stance with the GOP base, and being confrontational with Obama is a way of rallying Republicans, “it’s a tough spot for him and a tricky argument to make,” said Julie Mason, the Sirius XM radio host and a veteran Texas political reporter.
“If his much-touted Texas Miracle relies heavily on the immigrant labor force, how can he oppose immigration reform?” Mason said.