Texas Gov. Rick Perry brought Conservative Political Action Conference attendees to their feet at the stirring conclusion of his speech last week.
There are a number of takeaways. First, Perry is somewhat overlooked by the media, although his speech plainly indicated his interest in running for president in 2016. He has a coherent theme - take his red-state policies that work to Washington. And this time around he'll be able to prepare properly for the race when he leaves the governor's mansion at the start of 2015. Although he didn't touch on it, his strong suit may be energy, on which he is quite expert. In emphasizing the connection between the lagging economy and the Democrats' uber-deference to the Greens, he would score points with the right and add an effective element to his pro-growth message.
Like every other major speaker who preceded him, Perry signaled support for a strong national defense. There is remarkable agreement on an anti-Obama foreign policy, which means a United States that leads in the world.
Perry also made a cogent point about the fiscal battles in Washington. He chided the federal government for allowing a credit downgrade as politicians fought over "a few billion in spending cuts" while "our debt has soared by trillions." He is right, of course, and that suggests an argument over realigning priorities, moving away from slashing defense and in favor of some real entitlement reform, where those trillions are being spent.
His tone also showed some refreshing playfulness. With a smile and a bounce in his step he appeared, unlike some 2016 competitors, to have adopted the happy warrior persona. The GOP these days strays too far into gloom-and-doom mode, and its "stars" seem to think anger is the principal emotion for governance.
Any finally, Perry poses a real challenge to a fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz - in fundraising, in his record and in his more folksy style - and maybe even more so to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Unlike both of them, Perry has the advantage of having run before, having concrete achievements and having been outside the vortex of D.C. dysfunction. It is noteworthy that he criticized the shutdown, which both of them championed. No one is going to out-conservative him, yet he can make the case that conservatism and good governance are not mutually exclusive.
Perry knows all too well he bombed last time, but he may now be determined to restore his reputation. That's a powerful incentive for him to work hard, prepare thoroughly and refine his message.
Jennifer Rubin writes for The Washington Post.