last updated: November 2, 2019
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- The Response: Organizer and convener (2011)
- Energy Department: Secretary (2017-2019)
- 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate
- 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate
- Texas Governor (2000-2015)
- Lieutenant Governor of Texas (1999-2000)
- Texas Commissioner of Agriculture (1991-1999)
- Independent Real Estate Development
- Texas A&M University: B.S.
Rick Perry is a former governor of Texas who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, in 2016 and 2012. Although Perry was sharply critical of Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign, Trump selected him to run the Energy Department, claiming that as governor Perry had “created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices.” In October 2019, Trump announced that Perry would step down from his post at the end of the year, to be replaced by his deputy, Dan Brouillette.
When Trump first announced his decision to nominate Perry to head the Energy Department shortly after his 2016 election, the move was met with widespread skepticism, in part because of Perry’s hostility to the department, which he once argued should be eliminated. Observers also expressed concern over Perry’s refusal to “accept the scientific consensus on the importance of reducing carbon emissions to slow the impact of human-induced climate change,” which they argue make him unsuitable for the post of secretary of energy. They also pointed to Perry’s track record promoting extreme foreign policy views, including defending the use of torture, arguing against the Iran nuclear agreement, ridiculing detente with Cuba, and aligning himself with neoconservative initiatives.
Despite Perry’s rejection of climate science and hostility to the Energy Department, he nevertheless oversaw a massive expansion of the Energy Department’s budget, which was slated to increase to $40 billion by 2020, a 25 percent increase compared to 2017. A large portion of this expansion was to fund scientific research, including on everything from cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, leading one observer to comment that Perry “worked to get science into the marketplace.” Others, however, highlighted Perry’s failure to focus research on energy efficiency. “There’s no dancing around it. Rick Perry tried to prop up the most polluting energy sources and stall important efficiency standards and clean-energy research,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Perry’s decision to step down as energy secretary coincided with the House of Representatives’ impeachment investigation into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The whistle-blower complaint that spurred the investigation contended that Perry “made clear” to counterparts in Ukraine that Trump refused to meet the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, until his actions in office could be evaluated. Perry, however, refused to testify in the impeachment hearings, with his spokesperson saying in a statement that “The Secretary will not partake in a secret star chamber inquisition where agency counsel is forbidden to be present.”
2016 Presidential Campaign
Perry announced his intention to run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination in June 2015; he dropped out a few months later, in September 2015.
He entered the 2016 conteest as a reputed “national-security stalwart,” promoting an “assertive American foreign policy against ISIS in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin in Eastern Europe.” Perry’s hawkish positions echoed those of other GOP candidates, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The Atlantic’s neoconservative contributor David Frum lauded Perry on foreign policy, saying that was an “alternative to the neo-isolationist approach championed by Sen. Rand Paul.”
After dropping out of the 2016 primary, Perry publicly came out in support of fellow Texan Ted Cruz. He also repeatedly criticized Donald Trump, whom Perry likened to a fire-breathing dragon.
During the campaign, Perry defended the use of torture, called for “providing lethal aid” to Ukraine to use against Russian-backed separatists, and stated that American ground forces would have to be deployed against ISIS in Iraq. He also lambasted President Obama’s diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute, stating that his “very first act as president will be to rescind any agreement with Iran that legitimizes their quest to get a nuclear weapon.” Perry also claimed that the White House’s efforts at détente with Cuba “empowered the Castro regime with no thought of the Cuban people.”
A harsh critic of President Obama’s foreign policy and an opponent of immigration reform, Perry contended that “no one should be surprised that dictators like Assad would cross the president’s red line because he knows the president won’t even defend the line that separates our nation from Mexico.”
Perry’s decision to launch a 2016 presidential campaign was made inspite of a then-ongoing criminal investigation in Texas for his 2013 attempt to oust a county district attorney who was investigating public corruption. Mother Jones reported in June 2015: “Last August, a grand jury indicted Perry for abusing his power as governor. Perry has repeatedly requested that judges dismiss the case, only to be rebuked as the allegations progress toward a trial—one that could play out during the heat of the GOP primaries.” The charges against him were eventually dropped.
2012 Presidential Campaign
In August 2011, after he announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Perry catapulted to the head of the Republican primary race. However, a series of high profile gaffes severely damaged his campaign and in January 2012, after poor showings in early primaries, Perry announced he was dropping out the campaign. He said he would throw his support behind Newt Gingrich, the main remaining rival to Mitt Romney for the nomination.
Among Perry’s weaknesses as a presidential candidate during the 2012 campaign was his poor comprehension of U.S. foreign policy. His campaign website offered only brief, vague remarks on foreign policy, including a common conservative refrain that Perry rejected “the notion our president should apologize for our country but instead believes allies and adversaries alike must know that America seeks peace from a position of strength.”
Perry made headlines with a September 2011 speech to conservative Jewish leaders, during which he said: “Well, obviously, Israel is our oldest and most stable democratic ally in that region. That is what this is about. I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.” Few mainstream politicians—despite widespread support for Israel—couch their language in such stark biblical terms.
Although the speech drew predictable support from neoconservatives and other “pro-Israel” figures like Devon Gaffney Cross of Secure America Now, it was heavily criticized by many observers. William Saletan, in a scathing piece for Slate.com, wrote: “Bush never said he had a Christian duty to stand with Israel, because to say such a thing would have been stupid and dangerous. By framing U.S. foreign policy in terms of a religious alliance between Christians and Jews, Perry is validating the propaganda of Islamic extremists. He’s jeopardizing peace, Israel, and the United States … [and] he has vindicated Bin Laden’s narrative.”
Blogger Andrew Sullivan also lambasted Perry’s “theological foreign policy,” calling the Texas governor “Bush without the sophistication or conscience.” Sullivan wrote: “In that sense, Perry is the best thing for Jihadism in a very long time.”
Daniel Larison of The American Conservative attacked Perry not for his Christian-based support for Israel (“this is a common view among a significant number of evangelical and other Christians, and Perry has made a concerted effort to identify himself as one of these people”), but rather because “Perry takes it as a tenet of his faith that he ought to endorse a particularly close relationship with another state. The ‘clear directive’ doesn’t leave room for considerations of national interest or chaged circumstances. That suggests that he would support that relationship in its current form no matter how costly it might become to the U.S., and it would mean that there is virtually nothing that an Israeli government could do that would make him change his position.”
In a separate blog post discussing Perry’s claim that the Obama administration was “appeasing the Palestinians,” Larison wrote that “Perry is going to treat anything that Obama has done or failed to do on these issues as appeasement, because the accusation of appeasement is the inevitable line of attack that he and other Republicans are always going to use when it comes to policy on Israel and Palestine. Accusations of appeasement are very much like accusations of ‘isolationism,’ and their utility comes from how wildly inaccurate and inappropriate they are. If Obama reiterated and briefly took seriously standing U.S. policy on settlement-building on occupied territory, to take one example, that will be lumped in as an example of appeasement. The goal is obviously not to describe the policy or even to contest the policy on its merits, but to define it as a policy that is supposedly both treacherous and weak, which then allows it to be dismissed out of hand.”
Perry showed signs of a “pro-Israel,” neoconservative bent early in his bid. Before he had even announced his campaign, in addition to criticizing President Obama’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Perry wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the arrest of all U.S. citizens “found to be in violation of U.S. law by their participation in” the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. It was soon after revealed that Perry had held a foreign policy briefing with Bush-era hardliners Douglas Feith and William Luti, as well as with neoconservative pundit Andrew McCarthy. Politico reported that the briefing had been convened by Donald Rumsfeld. (For more, see Right Web, “Perry’s Neocon Clues,” July 22, 2011.)
Despite his views on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, Perry did not won over all neoconservatives. For instance, the Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin repeatedly attacked Perry, calling him—according to a report by Politico—”sleepy,” “hostile,” “dreadful,” “provincial,” “cloying,” and “buffoon.” According to Politico’s Ben Smith, “Rubin, caustic and single-minded, has proven immune to the usual approaches from Perry’s staff: She can’t be schmoozed, can’t be convinced. They respond diligently, if glumly, to emails that arrive in Austin like hostage notes, and often echo or prefigure former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney‘s attacks on him. ‘It’s just very high level saturation bombing from our perspective—we don’t know why,’ said a Perry ally, who said the campaign has given up on swaying her. ‘It’s just duck and cover.'”
In addition to his remarks about Israel, Perry also drew criticism for his comments that U.S. troops should intervene in Mexico to help that country’s efforts against drug cartels. He said in an October 2011 New Hampshire speech, “It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off our border.” Steven Taylor of Outside the Beltway called this “Rick Perry’s worst idea yet,” saying it would be merely a “serious escalation of the current policy” already failing, would “lead to an escalation of violence,” is “tone deaf” historically, and “is an egregious example of American hubris.”
However, this view appeared to be the result of pressure he was facing from conservatives over earlier comments he made on immigration in a September 2011 debate. When defending a 2001 bill that provided illegal immigrants with in-state tuition at Texas public universities if they had lived in the state for more than three years, Perry said: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
Perry continued by mocking a long preferred immigration policy of conservatives, namely building a fence spanning the U.S.-Mexico border to keep illegal immigrants out: “You can’t just talk about it and say, ‘Oh, let’s build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and that will take care of it.’ We have to live with reality.”
Despite his debate comments, Perry’s campaign website claimed he would “secure our international borders” and “take decisive action to defend our sovereign border because there can be no homeland security without border security.”
Perry returned to this theme after an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States—via a Mexican drug cartel—was revealed. Calling the allegation “business as usual for Iran,” Perry told an Indianapolis audience, “We cannot have national security until we have border security.”
Before become Texas governor, Perry served as lieutenant governor under George W. Bush from 1999-2000, and before that was commissioner of agriculture in Texas from 1991-1999.