Indictment Adds to Rick Perry's 2016 Challenges

Image: Texas governor lashes out at indictment

Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a statement regarding his grand jury indictment on charges of abuse of power at the Texas state capitol, in Austin, Texas, USA, 16 August 2014. Texas Governor Rick Perry lashed out at an indictment against him for abuse of power, calling it a political ploy against him. The Republican governor, who is seen as a possible candidate for president in 2016, was indicted on 15 August on two counts of abuse of power for allegedly threatening to veto funding for a district attorney's office in a bid to force her to resign. 'I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and those responsible will be held accountable,' Perry told a press conference in Texas state capital Austin. ASHLEY LANDIS / EPA

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment Friday on abuse of power charges will complicate his plans for a presidential run in 2016. But in reality, he was already a very long shot.

Perry, a Republican, would have almost no chance of being elected if he were found guilty of abuse of official capacity or coercion of a public servant, the two charges he faces from a dispute in which he cut millions in funding from the office of the district attorney in Travis County because she failed to resign. The district attorney, a Democrat named Rosemary Lehmberg, had pled guilty to a drunken driving charge.


Republicans have rallied around Perry, arguing the indictment is politically motivated. And even some Democrats have questioned it, with former Obama adviser David Axelrod posting on Twitter, “unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy.”

"This indictment amounts nothing more than abuse of power" on the part of the prosecutor, Perry said in a press conference over the weekend.

Perry though had a huge political problem even before this indictment: the memories fellow Republicans have of his 2012 run. The longtime Texas governor didn’t just flame out, quitting without winning a single primary. He became a national laughingstock after a debate in which he couldn’t remember the three federal agencies he was proposing to close, memorably saying “oops” after naming two.

Perry has been hinting he wants a second shot, and Republicans aren’t actively dissuading him. The Texas governor has gotten positive reviews from his recent trips to early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as his confrontation with the Obama administration over the unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

But at events like the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, it was clear that the energy of anti-establishment party activists is behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. When Texas Republicans had a presidential straw poll in June, Perry finished fourth, not only behind Cruz, also doctor Ben Carson and Paul. It was a sign even Republicans in Texas, where Perry has been governor for 14 years, were not very excited about him running for president.

The more establishment wing of the Republican Party, particularly key party donors, is also searching for a 2016 candidate. But they were wary of Perry even in 2012 and seem more interested now in figures like ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Both wings of the party are looking for a candidate they feel can defeat Hillary Clinton, if she runs, and Perry’s debate performances left a lasting impression of him as a man who couldn’t compete on stage with President Obama in 2012 or Clinton in the future.

Perry has argued that voters will give him a second look. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, John McCain and Romney all won the GOP nomination after having lost before. Perry is touting the strong job growth in Texas during his tenure and his criticism of Obama’s border policies.

“I think America is a place that believes in second chances. I think that we see more character out of an individual by how do you perform after you fail and you go forward,” Perry said in an interview on “Meet the Press” earlier this year.

The difference between those other four and Perry is obvious: they won primaries in their first runs, were considered by most in the GOP as smart enough to be president and were at least the strongest candidates in their own states when they started their campaigns.