Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, is going to be back in New Hampshire today. It’s all part of his effort to persuade grassroots Republicans that he is over the humiliations of his almost comedic 2012 presidential bid and that, heck, maybe he will try again in 2016.
He has, in fact, had a bit of a makeover. Everyone is talking about the nifty new glasses that yell corner office if not quite Oval Office. And he is off the bad-back medicine that allegedly softened his brain last time around. You may recall days when he seemed to slur his words and his mid-debate “oops” when he vowed to shutter three government departments and then couldn’t remember which they were.
There is more that may encourage him to test the old second-chances maxim. One: the fracking-fuelled Texas economy is running faster than a steer to spring pasture. Two: he has this new indictment strung around his neck – the one that says he abused his power by trying to force a Democrat district attorney out of office in Austin, the state capital, last year after she was caught seriously intoxicated at the wheel.
He is facing charges that could carry a sentence of 109 years and he’s dreaming Pennsylvania Avenue? Well, he may be exonerated. And it looks suspiciously like political vengefulness: the special prosecutor that unsealed the indictments last Friday is a Democrat, as is the DA in question, Rosemary Lehmberg.
Thus, Mr Perry seems to be enjoying himself more than ever. He turned what should have been the excruciating business of being booked in Austin on Tuesday into theatre. He denied all wrongdoing going in, fairly smirked at the camera during the mugshot, and ostentatiously went for ice creams afterwards.
On top of that, the indictments have drawn widespread scepticism. Even David Axelrod, the Democrat (and soon Labour) campaign guru, called it “sketchy”. Then there is the video released by his supporters showing clips of Ms Lehmberg in apoplexy on the night she was arrested. Not pretty, very Happy Valley.
Here are the guts of the case. After Ms Lehman was caught driving sloshed, Mr Perry publicly admonished her to resign. She refused. He threatened to veto funding for a department she runs that investigates corruption by elected state officials, the Public Integrity Unit. Still she didn’t go, so he did as he had promised, blocking the unit’s $7.5m budget.
Something you should know about Texas today. Republicans run it all. It’s their playground. Not one state-wide elected office is held by a Democrat. The state legislature is majority red. In Travis County, where Austin is located, the DA is the last single redoubt of Democrat influence. Meanwhile, Mr Perry has used his three terms in office to fill thousands of positions with pals and supporters (or cronies).
At the time of Ms Lehmberg’s date with a vodka bottle, her Public Integrity Unit was deep into an investigation of goings-on at a Texas cancer-prevention institute that had been loudly championed by Governor Perry since its inception. That probe resulted in the conviction of one its top officials.
Accused of attempting to coerce a public servant and of abuse of his office, Mr Perry should be making his first court appearance today. Instead, he is going to New Hampshire. If there was a law against arrogance in office, his chances with the jury would be less good. Look at that mug-shot smirk again. Innocent until proven guilty. Yet a modicum of humility, Mr Perry, would be welcome. In the circumstances.