One man's crisis is another man's opportunity. And Thursday's mass exodus of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's top campaign advisors presents a major opening for perhaps the last person who could shake the very foundations of the presidential contest, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perhaps no one in politics protests as loudly against Washington, D.C., as Perry. The nation's longest-serving governor has made clear his disdain for the nation's capital and all who work in the federal government, and he has disavowed, with no ambiguity, the notion that he will ever seek to run for president. As recently as May, at a meeting of Republican National Committee members in Dallas, Perry told reporters he had no interest in a national campaign.
And yet, with a lackluster Republican field that has not inspired activists hungry for an exciting outsider candidate, Perry is beginning to look like he's rethinking his stance.
Perry has reportedly told supporters he is considering making a late entrance into the race. And in August, just a week before the Iowa straw poll, Perry will host a prayer gathering to which he has invited the nation's governors.
If he does get in the race, Perry would bring a populist streak that appeals to tea party voters who agree with his belief that control of most government functions should be delegated away from Washington and back to the states.
Perry's vehemence that he wouldn't get in the race was so convincing that several of his closest advisors decided to sign up with another presidential contender. Both Rob Johnson, Perry's former campaign manager, and Dave Carney, his chief strategist, signed on with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, moves seen as evidence that Perry was seriously staying out. But on Thursday, Johnson and Carney were among a number of senior Gingrich advisors who quit the campaign en masse.
Mark Miner, Perry's spokesman, refused to comment on "private conversations the governor may or may not have."
Despite his tenure — he became governor in 2000, when predecessor George W. Bush resigned to become president — Perry has maintained an outsider image. As he sought an unprecedented third term in 2010, he faced down popular Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in a Republican primary by attacking her ties to Washington while embracing the 10th Amendment,which limits the power of the federal government. Perry, who was initially seen as the underdog in the race, easily defeated the senator without even needing a runoff.
It was his strident support for the 10th Amendment — including, at one point, a seeming suggestion by the governor that Texas might secede from the Union — that endeared him most to tea party activists. And those activists are the ones hungriest for a presidential contender of their own.
Many have tried to appeal to that crowd. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., founder of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, has the most obvious connection to those voters. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain and others have made pitches too. But none possesses the combination of a high profile among conservative activists, the ability to raise big money and the huge electoral base that Perry would bring to the race.
Perry's entrance into the contest is far from certain. But his fundraising acumen gives him the means, his views on the state of the nation provide the motive, and the sudden availability of his two top operatives, as well as the lack of a top-tier Tea Party contender gives Perry the opportunity to make a late, loud and explosive entrance into the presidential contest -- one that cannot be matched by any other Republican even remotely considering the race.
The article, "Rick Perry's Moment? ," first appeared in the National Journal.