At the same time, Perry is traveling the country on what might best be termed a Texas victory tour, bragging about his state's booming economy. The governor's preferred MO is to jet into a blue state with a less shiny economic outlook (California and New York are his favorite whipping dogs), talk up the business-friendly climate back home, and invite local businesses to relocate. There have also been schmooze-athons with donors in money centers including New York City and San Diego, policy tutorials with think-tankers from AEI, Hoover, Brookings, and the Manhattan Institute, and the occasional overseas trek (Jerusalem, London, Davos). "We're booked out like this through the end of the year," Miller told me.
The flurry of activity seems geared to send a very clear signal: If he runs again, Perry isn't going to be a dilettante campaigner. In 2012, "I learned two very good, humbling, frustrating lessons," he tells me, in a refrain he is repeating constantly of late. "One is that you need to be fit—and major back surgery did not allow me to be fit, physically or mentally. And the other is preparation. I don't care how many times you have been elected governor of Texas. You cannot parachute into the process of being vetted for the nomination for the Republican Party without proper preparation. It is a long and arduous task."
In his last bid, Perry entered the race late—in August 2011—but due to the weakness of the field, he immediately became the front-runner. This sudden prominence conferred obvious perks, most notably the ability to raise $20 million in six weeks. ("That had never been done before," notes his then-strategist Dave Carney.) But it also came with burdens, including a relentless spotlight trained on a candidate who was untested nationally. Perry was soft, sloppy, and clueless about how to negotiate the primary minefield. It's tough to be the front-runner when "you're still trying to get your sea legs under you," sympathizes Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, a social-conservative activist group in Iowa. "When Mike Huckabee was first running in 2008, nobody knew who he was, so nobody was following him, and he got a chance to make mistake after mistake in farmhouses across Iowa." By contrast, says Vander Plaats, every "goof-up" Perry made—and there were plenty—immediately became national news.
The most famous goof-up, of course, occurred in a November GOP debate, when, in a display of antigovernment fervor, Perry vowed to euthanize three Cabinet agencies—but could only remember the names of two of them (Commerce and Education). Following some hemming and hawing and an attempted assist from Mitt Romney, Perry offered up an embarrassed, "Oops." Quicker than you can say "Department of Energy," he became a global punch line.
Perry now blames the gaffe, and his shoddy performance in general, on the back medication he was taking at the time. But meds aside, the broader problem was that Perry's entire candidacy seemed premised on the idea that he could take shortcuts. His campaign's infrastructure was deeply flawed (his team missed the Virginia ballot deadline) and its staff was cocky (they thought they could skip tiresome tasks like kissing up to Iowans and working the political media). "They were grossly overconfident in their own abilities—crazy confident," marvels Bill Miller, a veteran GOP lobbyist in Austin. "They were playing by their own rules. They thought they were geniuses."