Rick Perry as a Donald Trump administration Cabinet member — and particularly at Energy — is so perfect for an election year and transition that repeatedly has us saying, “This is really happening?”
AUSTIN, Texas — In case you’ve forgotten exactly how it went down, this was the deal on Nov. 9, 2011, on a presidential debate stage in Auburn Hills, Mich. At the time, Rick Perry had been our governor since sometime shortly after Reconstruction. And, in his mind, he was White House bound.
The debate moment was as sudden as it was magic, certifying the beginning of the end for Perry in a GOP primary campaign he had entered as a front-runner.
As Republican presidential candidates always do, Perry was talking about trimming down the federal government. On this night, at that moment, he was on a roll, calling for a fairer tax system, reduction in regulations and overall overhaul of government.
“And I will tell you,” he said, brimming with characteristic confidence, “it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”
A transcript of the debate at that point just says (LAUGHTER). And that was it. Poof, a presidential candidate who began at or near the top of the GOP polls had, in a moment of forgetfulness, sunk to Dan Quayle territory.
As Perry struggled to recall the third agency, fellow candidate Ron Paul upped the ante by saying, “You need five.”
“Oh, five, OK,” Perry said, moving his lips while trying to jump start his brain. “So Commerce, Education and the …”
“EPA?” a voice recorded on the transcript as “UNKNOWN”, but I recall as Mitt Romney’s, asked helpfully.
“EPA,” Perry said, “there you go.”
More (LAUGHTER) and some (APPLAUSE).
Moderator John Harwood of CNBC asked Perry, “Seriously, is the EPA the one you were talking about?”
“No sir, no sir,” Perry fessed up “We were talking about the agencies of government. The EPA needs to be rebuilt. There’s no doubt about that.”
But it was not the third federal agency on his hit list. He hemmed and hawed and repeated the first two but couldn’t come up with the third.
“Sorry. Oops,” Perry said in what could be among the most infamous two words ever uttered by a presidential candidate very publicly watching his political life flash before him.
And then the debate went on, with other candidates talking about other things. Perry’s turn next came when he was asked to name programs — such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — he would cut to accomplish long-term deficit reduction.
“Well, every one of those,” he said. “And by the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”
The crowd applauded.
Perry limped along until he gave up the ghost of his campaign in January 2012 on the eve of the South Carolina primary after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. His 2016 White House rerun was even less successful.
And now, thanks to a 2016 foe Perry had lambasted as a “cancer on conservatism … (that) must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded,” our ex-Gov, assuming the GOP-controlled Senate thinks it’s a good idea, is fixing to run the agency he was reaching for that night in Michigan, an agency he thought shouldn’t exist.
Perry as a Donald Trump administration Cabinet member — and particularly at this agency — is so perfect for an election year and transition that repeatedly, in different ways on different days, has us saying, “This is really happening?”
Oh yes, this is really happening. We know this because you can’t make this stuff up, not Trump being elected president and not Perry heading an agency he forgot he wanted abolished.
Back during this year’s GOP convention, a local know-it-all, seen-it-all columnist for the Austin American-Statesman who looks a lot like me riffed poetic about Perry’s low-key convention role introducing his friend Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of a military mission in Afghanistan, for Luttrell’s convention speech.
That might be the last we’d see of Perry in the public spotlight, the wise columnist wrote.
By then, Perry, ever the politician, had made the pivot from Trump basher to Trump supporter. Funny how that works. Sad, but funny. In the lobby of the Cleveland hotel where the Texas delegation was bivouacked, Perry told me he’d indeed be interested in serving in a Trump administration.
“The place that I’m passionate about is our veterans and about our military. So somewhere in that area is where I would be,” he said.
So that didn’t happen. But it looks like secretary of energy will. How’d that happen? Best I can figure it was the excessive energy an exuberant Perry exhibited on “Dancing With the Stars.”
At the Department of Energy, Perry will replace Ernest Moniz, who’s had the gig since 2013. Moniz is a nuclear physicist. He succeeded Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner for his groundbreaking work in using laser light to trap atoms. Perry’s got a bachelor’s degree in animal science from one of the finer institutions of higher education in the entire Bryan-College Station Aggieplex.
Lest we jump to any conclusions about how Secretary Perry will do, let’s remember the familiar financial caveat: Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Can this stuff get any weirder?
Yes. Say this out loud: Secretary of Agriculture and presidential confidante Sid Miller.
Weird, right? Maybe Miller should be secretary of steak.