"You're welcome. I'm awesome!" Rick Perry's rebranding is full of self-delusion

Texas governor's trying hard to convince people that he's going to run a serious presidential campaign. What a tool

Published August 14, 2014 12:30PM (EDT)

Rick Perry                            (AP/Justin Hayworth)
Rick Perry (AP/Justin Hayworth)

The Rick Perry rebrand is already a smashing success. He is charming, adorable, smart-looking, smart, and awesome. That's right, awesome. You know who declared Rick Perry "awesome"? Rick Perry himself did! And since Rick Perry is smart now, it must be true.

The Des Moines Register did the Lord's work of following Perry's bumbling around the Iowa State Fair earlier this week, where he was being straight up weird:

Perry seemed pumped up after his enthusiastic, heckle-free reception at the Register's Soapbox. When the Register's moderator thanked him as he came off the stage, Perry said: "You're welcome. I'm awesome!"

Perry also reportedly shook a 10-year-old girl's hand until she had to say to him, "I can't feel my fingers." He "circulated among the reporters, sharing his bacon. 'Don't be a fool. Take some,' he said. And then he searched for some napkins. 'Don't lick your fingers in public,' he said to no one in particular."

This is about how coverage of Rick Perry at the Iowa state fair in 2011 went. Or coverage of Rick Perry anywhere during the 2011-12 cycle. That he's a lovable goon, but a goon. At least back then he had the excuse that he was hopped up on painkillers all the time following a back surgery. What's his excuse this time?

But forget all the clowning around. Perry wants us to know that he's a changed man. He told the DMR that if he runs again this time, he'll "be prepared, physically, mentally and intellectually," for the challenge. Wanna know how? Wanna know how? THIS is how: "As late as this morning, I had a rather in-depth briefing on what's going on in Kurdistan." Oh really! Who briefed him? Secretary of State John Kerry? And no, scrolling through a few Breitbart.com comment sections does not count as a "rather in-depth briefing."

Seriousness -- briefings on foreign policy, sober-minded, nuanced analysis -- is the new brand Perry is trying to sell. “The new Perry isn’t just working harder than his 2012 incarnation. He’s also seeking to occupy a different political space,” National Journal's Michelle Cottle wrote in her big puff piece last week. “Last time, Perry ran as a conservative firebrand. This time, with Cruz and others sucking up all the oxygen on the right, he is trying out a new message. Forget the wild-eyed cowboy squawking about how Texas might be forced to secede from the union. Today’s Perry is pitching himself as a thoughtful, seasoned elder statesman.”

Well, here's the first ad from the newly formed Rick PAC, a Perry promotional vehicle, which features a bunch of Fox News clips of Perry screeching at President Obama about how he hasn't secured the border. Thoughtful! Seasoned. Elder Statesman?

Thoughtful, seasoned elder statesman Rick Perry's other major contribution to the border debate in recent weeks has been to suggest that the Obama administration is either inept in handling the crisis "or they’re in on this somehow or another... I mean, I hate to be conspiratorial, but I mean how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico and then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?"

The path Perry's taking is one we should expect a lot of GOP presidential candidates to take early this cycle: launch a big PR effort where you tell the media that you're going to run a "thoughtful, seasoned elder statesman" campaign as a preemptive move, hope that they buy it, and then just run the same mad dash to the rightward pole that we've come to expect. In other words, set "the narrative" as a bluff and see long it takes anyone to pick up on it. Good plan! No one will ever find out.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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