As he bolsters his national policy chops ahead of a likely second bid for the presidency, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is enlisting the help of a top adviser to a former Republican rival.
Lanhee Chen, who was the policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, will travel to Austin later this month to help lead a small tutorial and private discussion with Perry on health care policy.
Now living on the West Coast, where he is the David and Diane Steffy Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Chen was approached by a Perry aide with an invitation to travel to the Texas capital for the informal symposium.
The closed-door event comes amid Perry’s continued efforts to get up to speed on national and international policy in advance of a potential campaign. The tutorial is considered essential given perceptions that he was unprepared and intellectually ill-equipped for the presidency during his 2012 White House bid.
“My personal view is I’m happy to help anyone who’s entertaining the thought of running in 2016 on the Republican side,” Chen said, adding that he also has engaged in informal policy discussions with Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal since the last election.
Pursuing an image makeover in the last year-and-a-half, Perry has made a concerted effort to engage with leading conservative policy experts both in Austin and around the nation, where memories of his disastrous 2012 run remain fresh.
“That was something people thought was a deficiency last time around, and he’s clearly trying to bolster that,” Chen said.
The nation’s longest-serving governor, Perry is not running for re-election this year and has sought to become a prominent voice on the national stage with frequent visits to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and regular national television appearances.
Perry has been particularly vocal recently in lambasting the federal government’s response to the immigration and humanitarian crisis on the Mexican border.
“When we asked the president to come [to the border] this last week, he made a decision not to come,” Perry said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “It's just time after time, you see a response from this administration that says, ‘You know what? We're really not that interested in the southern border of the United States.’”
But Perry has not limited his commentary to attacks on the administration.
On Friday, he picked a fight on foreign policy with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul -- another likely 2016 GOP candidate -- penning an op-ed in The Washington Post that criticized the noninterventionist lawmaker’s worldview in general and specifically his response to the turmoil in Iraq.
“Paul is drawing his own red line along the water’s edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world,” Perry wrote.
Paul responded with a biting op-ed of his own, in which he said that the Texas governor had crafted a “fictionalized account” of Paul’s foreign policy -- even taking a cheeky shot at Perry’s much-discussed new taste in eyewear.
“But apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly,” the Bluegrass State’s junior senator wrote.
Though Perry’s upcoming briefing with Chen will focus on health care, international affairs have been an area of concentration for him since the 2012 election.
Over the last few months, Perry has held regular meetings with foreign policy intellectuals largely from the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, including former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen, former Under Secretary of State Bob Joseph, and Council on Foreign Relations fellow Elliott Abrams.
The Austin briefings typically last three to four hours and conclude with a group dinner at the governor’s mansion.
Two participants in previous meetings with Perry told RCP that they were impressed by his renewed seriousness of purpose, especially considering the negative impression he made during the presidential campaign.
One participant in a recent Austin meeting, who spoke to RCP on the condition of anonymity, recalled leaving the governor’s mansion with a former Republican foreign policy official who was equally impressed.
“He turns to me and says, ‘Is that honestly the guy I watched in 2012?’” the participant recalled. “I mean, everybody felt that way. How could that same guy have been such a doofus?”
Perry will be back in the 2016 spotlight on Saturday when he makes his latest visit to Iowa to keynote a pair of GOP fundraisers and meet with local activists and officials.