Republican starlets Rick Perry and Sarah Palin are both known for their personalities, love of guns, sexiness, and moments of TV humiliation, but only one of them is doing something to avoid forever being labelled an idiot. After his intellectual humiliation during the last presidential election cycle — during which he was unable to remember his own policy points — Perry is becoming considerably more wonkish than we’ve previously known him, fashioning himself as something of an elder statesman, in stark contrast to Palin.
The Texas governor, a pair of smart-person glasses now permanently attached to his face, has been busy recasting himself as an mild intellectual and business expert. On Monday, Perry discussed the job-creating potential of Tesla in Texas, condemning the "antiquated" rule that prohibits carmakers from selling directly to customers. On Tuesday, he appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to declare an issue in the Texas governor's race, equal pay, "nonsense" and suggested candidates turn to more “substantive issues,” as Politico reports. He's waded into the debate over Internet gaming, Politico notes. And he's embraced prison sentencing reform.
Meanwhile, we're about to see Palin prance around on yet another reality TV show. Following the debacle of the 2008 campaign, the advice to Palin from Washington was largely as follows: go back to Alaska, buckle down, and learn things to prevent similar disaster next time. She did not do that. Writing in Commentary in 2011, John Podhoretz lamented, "She embarrassed herself in two interviews, and decided the blame lay not with her own ill-preparedness but with the media that had come after her..." and eventually "came to embrace her status as a kind of martyr for the social-conservative views that had not been the truly distinguishing features of her meteoric political career." The New York Times' Ross Douthat agreed, writing, "Palin was caricatured viciously, but in response she decided to essentially become the caricature, giving her enemies exactly the kind of Spiro Agnew-in-heels performance they expected, and then chasing celebrity in destructive (if lucrative) ways once the initial firestorm around her subsided." A few years later, that's still true: Palin is set to launch a TV channel, Rogue TV, and star in Amazing America with Sarah Palin, a show about to put the Sportsman Channel on the cable TV map.
Like Palin, Perry was caught unprepared, or tired, or something, and was painfully inarticulate during a Republican primary debate. But it's as if Perry listened to all the advice Palin got, and actually followed it.
Compare what the two did at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month. Palin delivered a speech in which she pretended to read aloud from Green Eggs and Ham, to rousing applause. Young Republicans passed out free posters of her riding a horse, and there were red tote bags promoting her new show. Perry, on the other hand, sat on a lengthy panel about prison sentencing reform, alongside Grover Norquist and former New York City Police Chief Bernie Kerik, a veritable expert on the criminal justice system.
Perhaps Perry was chosen for presiding over more executions than anyone in American history, but the point is this: while Palin gave the people what the wanted, a caricature forever spouting quotable gems of Alaskan wisdom, Perry spoke about “real conservative governance”: shutting down prisons, lowering recidivism rates, and saving money. It was well-received.
Neither Perry or Palin have officially announced decisions to run in 2016 — Palin merely flirted with a campaign in 2011, to Karl Rove's frustration. When asked about his presidential ambitions this week, Perry said, "I'm keeping the option open, absolutely." So who knows, it's possible they could face off at the podium.
In terms of success, we doubt Perry is going to get his own TV channel, let alone a reality show, anytime soon. But while Palin maintains the glamour, its Perry's political career that's not dead yet.