“So hot right now”: Why the media secretly wants a Rick Perry 2016 comeback

Rick Perry wants us to think that by sending troops to the border, he's a strong leader. Here's who's playing along

Published October 2, 2014 4:19PM (EDT)

Rick Perry                                 (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Rick Perry (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

There seems to be a general yearning among pundits and reporters for Rick Perry to play the role of Comeback Kid in the 2016 presidential race. Back in 2011, when Perry launched his first campaign, he was automatically conferred frontrunner status by the media for no real reason other than he was Rick Perry. He flamed out spectacularly and ended his campaign with his reputation in tatters, but that only seems to have served to prime the press to find a new way to give Perry a leg up. “Never under-estimate the appeal of a political reclamation story,” the Washington Post wrote back in July as they proclaimed Rick Perry “So Hot Right Now.”

Perry has seized upon that emerging narrative and has done everything he can to demonstrate to the cable news talking heads who are his primary audience that he’s back and he’s serious. News this week that a man in Texas has been diagnosed with Ebola had Erick Erickson wondering if this, combined with “the border situation,” could be Perry’s path back to the big time.

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This is precisely the sort of thing that reporters who are already itching for the Perry comeback are looking for. He’s showing leadership! He’s taking action! It’s a new Rick Perry!

I’m probably wasting my time by making this request, but here goes nothing: Please do not fall for this.

I’ll focus on the border, since the Ebola in Texas crisis is just a few days old and, at this point, seems to be confined to one unfortunate person. Hopefully it won’t go any further than that, and if it does resolve itself quickly then we can all thank Rick Perry for anything he may have done to assist state and federal health officials in preventing its spread.

But as for the border, Perry would very much like you to think that he showed leadership and produced results by ordering 1,000 National Guard troops to the border this past summer. That’s just not the case.

First of all, the troops arrived too late to do the job they were sent there to do: assist the border patrol with the flood of Central America minors coming into the United States. “I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Perry said at the time. Vox reported last month that by August, “the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border had fallen back below the previous year's levels.” Perry ordered the troops to mobilize in July, but the first ones didn’t make it to the border until mid-August, after the surge of kids crossing the border had stopped. That might explain why the first troops who arrived at their posts quickly found that there was nothing for them to actually do.

Since the migrant crisis has abated, Perry has had to come up with new justifications for spending $18 million per month on maintaining the National Guard presence at the border. The rising panic over the Islamic State provided him with exactly that. The mission is now, according to Perry, to protect the southern border from terrorist infiltration.

Perry went on Morning Joe this week to have a good chuckle about his horrible 2012 campaign and idly muse on whether he is the “competent leader” that he says America so desperately craves. He boasted of his decision to send the troops to the border to protect America from all the ISIS terrorists that are obviously trying to sneak over it (intelligence officials say this isn’t happening). “Those are the individuals we worry about,” Perry said. “That is exactly the reason that I deployed the National Guard to our border, because this administration refuses to do their constitutional duty.”

He also showed up on Fox & Friends and said that “ISIS is not just a legitimate threat in that part of the world. It is a legitimate threat inside the United States. That is one of the reasons we sent our National Guard to the border, to send a very clear message that that border is going to be secure.”

“It is working,” Perry said. “We knew that if you put a presence – it’s just like a neighborhood watch, it’s just like having a residual force in Iraq. The bad guys are going to know it.” So, according to Rick Perry, sending troops to the border has prevented terrorism because there have been no terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the less than two months that those troops have been there. The logic is unassailable. If anyone has a rock that keeps tigers away, there's a good chance Rick Perry would like to buy it from you.

While Perry’s “leadership” and his efforts to single-handedly save the country from ISIS are providing fodder for cable news, there’s another story about Perry’s governorship that’s getting far less attention. In late September, the Texas State Auditor released a report showing that the Texas Enterprise Fund, a program established at Rick Perry’s request to provide economic incentives to state businesses, had awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to businesses that hadn’t made formal requests for funds.

According to the Texas Tribune:

The Texas State Auditor’s report of the Texas Enterprise Fund describes a system in which many recipients of financial awards were decided outside of formal channels and were often not properly monitored to ensure they were delivering the number of jobs or the type of jobs they had promised.

“The report suggests that the governor’s office was, at best, sloppy or, at worst, misleading in providing information to lawmakers and the public about how the program was run,” the Tribune added.

Imagine that: an economic incentives program established by a governor with presidential ambitions skirted regulations and misled regulators about the taxpayer dollars it dispersed. Where does that fit in with the Rick Perry comeback narrative? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly more interesting than Perry’s phony one-man war on migrant children or ISIS terrorists or whoever else he claims is threatening to undermine America.

By Simon Maloy

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