FORT WORTH, Texas — Sounding like he’s almost made up his mind to run again for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday told a national audience of conservatives that it’s time for a rebellion against a “power-hungry oppressive” president.
Perry’s made no secret he’s eying a 2016 White House run, but he’s neither the only Texas Republican doing so nor the only one with a plum speaking slot at RedState’s Gathering.
The state’s junior senator, Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, is also thought to have presidential designs and will also address the annual conference organized by the influential conservative blog, held this year in Fort Worth.
The pair could eventually find themselves competing for the same slice of the GOP electorate, fiercely religious and social conservatives energized by an intense mistrust of President Barack Obama.
“Thomas Jefferson was right when he said, ‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,”’ Perry said told the RedState crowd to cries of “A-men!” “And now, faced with another power-hungry, oppressive ruler in a faraway place, it’s time for us to start a little rebellion.”
He stopped short of calling for Obama’s impeachment, though, saying, “This war that we will fight will be on the battlefield of ideas.”
In 2011, Perry used RedState’s national convention in South Carolina to kick off his presidential campaign – and Cruz, at the time just an underdog Senate candidate, was among the undercard speakers, predicting “Perry will win the nomination.”
Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign saw him rocket briefly to front-runner status only to plummet to political punchline following his “Oops” moment during a debate, when he forgot the third federal department he’d promised to scuttle if elected.
Since then, Perry has remade his cowboy image, donning stylish glasses, studying up on domestic and foreign policy and saying he’s far humbler about his ability to cope with the national spotlight.
The governor has garnered headlines nationally by recently deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border amid an influx of unaccompanied Central American children fleeing violence and pouring into the U.S.
“If this president will not act to secure the border, as the governor of Texas, I will,” Perry said, drawing a standing ovation from about 300 attendees.
Still, Perry’s chief selling point will be his state’s white-hot economy, and he said Friday that 35 percent of the nation’s new, private-sector jobs had been created in Texas since he became governor in December 2000.
“One of the reasons Texas has been so successful is because we are one of the few states that have consistently enacted red-state policies,” Perry said, noting that a Democrat hasn’t won statewide office here since 1994, the nation’s longest streak of single-party dominance.
Cruz’ willingness to stir up controversy on Capitol Hill and enrage leaders from both parties has made him a national grassroots superstar. He’s delivering the event’s keynote address Friday evening. But Perry concluded his speech by borrowing a line from Ronald Reagan that’s also often used by the senator: “Let’s make America once again that shining city on a hill.”
“Between Perry and Cruz, I’ll take Perry,” said Michael Lee Pimberton, a conference attendee from Radcliff, Kentucky, and retired Army veteran. He said Cruz “is extraordinary” but since the senator was born in Canada, he’s not sure he qualifies to be president.
Both Perry and Cruz were heading from Fort Worth to Iowa for an event sponsored by The Family Leader, a conservative advocacy group. Iowa opens presidential voting, and both Texans have visited the state nearly every weekend of late.
Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, now president of the Heritage Foundation, said both are on the presidential radars of conservatives nationwide “but Cruz more than Perry.”
“He’s very inspirational,” said DeMint, a longtime Cruz supporter. “His willingness to fight the system from the inside has really inspired people.”