The emerging conventional wisdom about Rick Perry’s newborn candidacy for president is that having been the governor of Texas for a decade will hurt him. The public has had enough of swaggering Texans, we are told, and Perry’s cowboy boots will remind independent voters of George W. Bush and why they voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
Count me a doubter. Texans have occupied the White House for roughly a third of the past 50 years. The state’s economic performance has vastly outpaced that of the rest of the country during Perry’s governorship. And those who think that the 2008 election was a vote against the Texas style never really understood Bush’s popularity or his loss of it.
Both had much more to do with substance than style, and so will Perry’s fate. Barack Obama heads into 2012 weighted down with an extraordinary load of disadvantages: growth is dismal, unemployment is high, our debt has ballooned, independent voters think his stimulus failed and his health care law should be repealed, and perhaps most important is a general sense that Obama is in over his head—that he was not well-suited to the job and is not performing it well.
That is why Republicans seem inclined to choose as their standard bearer someone with proven executive experience, and why they find Perry naturally appealing. To get further than that first impression, Perry will have to show that he understands the nature of our problems and has a clear idea of how to get spending under control, reform our health care entitlements and, above all, spur economic and job growth again. He has a lot of work to do to prove all that, but whether he does it in a Texas drawl will hardly determine the outcome.
Yuval Levin is Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of National Affairs.