Texas Governor Rick Perry is headed to California this week for meetings with business leaders and legislators that are doing nothing to quell speculation about a possible presidential run. According to the Washington Post, this is his second trip to California in three weeks. The question is whether these jaunts mean he is still testing the waters for a possible try at the Republican presidential nomination, or if they indicate he has already decided to do so and is in full pre-campaign mode raising money and gathering future endorsements.
For Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, there’s no doubt about the answer to that question: “I sense that he is beyond considering running for president. He is now planning to run for president,” asserted Steel. That has yet to be proved, but Republicans like Steel can be forgiven for jumping to conclusions. Perry’s recent travels and statements have had all the earmarks of a presidential flirtation.
Of course, GOP activists who have spent much of the past year waiting for the perfect candidate to parachute into the race have been disappointed before. The buzz about Perry is highly reminiscent of the media swoon over Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who also spent the weeks preceding his announcement he wasn’t running acting very much like a man who had every intention of entering the race. Unlike Daniels, Perry’s indecision does not appear to be linked to misgivings on the part of his family. But the longer the Texas governor keeps his party waiting, the more many activists and donors may be inclined to think he really isn’t interested and commit themselves to candidates who need no coaxing.
Perry has to know that for all of the supposed discontent on the part of may Republicans with the existing field of candidates, time won’t stand still for anyone, even the governor of a state with a booming economy and a large Republican base. In particular, the emergence of Michele Bachmann as a serious contender for the nomination means someone who has at least as good a claim on Tea Party and social conservative support as the Texan is rapidly filling the alleged vacuum on the party’s right. Though Republican power brokers still speak of the need for the entry of a candidate who will be the alternative to Mitt Romney, Bachmann appears to be seizing that role. In addition, Tim Pawlenty may be ready to pull out of the nosedive that seemed to stall his campaign.
All this means that although Perry would enter the GOP race as a formidable force, the idea he could just waltz in and seize the mantle as the favorite of GOP conservatives may be a misreading of the situation. The point is, if Perry is going to run, it’s time for him to jump in before he finds himself hopelessly behind those who have made up their minds.