Analysis: Rick Perry Busts a Move on Molly Ivins’ Birthday

The symmetry was swell, with confirmation of Rick Perry’s appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" landing on what would have been the 72nd birthday of Molly Ivins, the state’s most famous connoisseur of political humor.

Former Gov. Rick Perry with Emma Slater, his Dancing with The Stars partner.

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We started the current political roundelay with a TV star trying to become a politician. We’re ending with a politician trying to become a TV star.

Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. Former Gov. Rick Perry will be on this season’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

What if this isn’t real life? What if we’re all just fictional characters in some other world’s sitcom? Who wrote this script?

Or maybe this is the wave of the future — our first peek at how political styles and campaigns are changing. In a year when Republicans chose a presidential nominee that Democrats, independents and many Republicans cannot or will not take seriously, maybe "Dancing with the Stars" is the new way of clawing your way back to the center ring.

It might seem that Perry has decided to join the circus instead of continuing with his political career, that the governor who had a hard time being taken seriously in his second bid for the presidential nomination has given in.

It hasn’t worked for anyone yet, but somewhere on the spectrum between celebrity and the power of positive thinking, on one end, and notoriety and delusion on the other, there might just be a political resurrection for Perry.

He’s not talking like that. Perry says he agreed to be on the show to spotlight veterans’ issues and to sharpen his dance moves in advance of his daughter’s wedding in October.

“There were a lot of people that were surprised, including my wife,” Perry told The Texas Tribune

What it’s not is part of a planned comeback that might go — as political speculation here and elsewhere has had it — through the U.S. Senate seat now held by Ted Cruz. Cruz is up for re-election next year. Perry, along with U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has been mentioned as a potential challenger.

“My preference of what’s next for Rick Perry is not to be in the United States Senate,” Perry said. 

Too bad. The symmetry was swell, with confirmation of Perry’s appearance as a dancing contestant landing on what would have been the 72nd birthday of Molly Ivins, the state’s most famous connoisseur of political humor.

It has been her kind of contest. Surprised as she was by the ascent of Perry — Ivins dubbed him “Gov. Goodhair” — she never saw him running or even talking seriously about running for president.

Cruz was not yet a blip on the radar screen when she died in 2007. Trump was, but not as a national candidate; he wasn’t considered a serious political candidate by a lot of people this time last year, much less last decade.

Bernie Sanders? Pure gold. Building walls with Mexico. Fighting over which restrooms transgender people should use. The fall of Baylor University chancellor and president Kenneth Starr, grand inquisitor of Bill Clinton, and the simultaneous rise of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady. Jeb Bush’s low energy and Chris Christie’s bridge. Cruz’s speech.

Blow out your candles, Molly. Cheers!

Trump’s success has to prompt serious students of politics to consider new paths to victory. He built his name ID the old-fashioned way: “Write whatever you want about me, just spell my name right.” Once everyone knew his name, he used his celebrity to attract their attention, then held it with a series of political ideas and proposals that would cost any college of government its accreditation.

Perry has chosen reality TV instead of government, to turn not to voters but to the judges of a dancing contest to declare him a winner or a loser. He and Trump have traded places.

So far, it’s working. Perry’s fortunes (and those of more than a dozen others who also sought the GOP nomination) haven’t come together that way. He jumped into the 2012 race late and unprepared and didn’t last until the end of 2011, the year of the “Oops” heard ‘round the world.

He was back in 2015. A year and a month ago, he gave a well-covered speech calling Trump a “cancer on conservatism.”

He was out of that race before primary voters ever spied their ballots. He endorsed Cruz earlier this year. When Cruz dropped and refused to support the nominee, Perry endorsed Trump. He said he would serve as VP if asked, that he would serve in the Cabinet, if asked.

Now he’s squelching talk of politics and waltzing into low culture.

Perry has chosen reality TV instead of government, to turn not to voters but to the judges of a dancing contest to declare him a winner or a loser. He and Trump have traded places.

Hope he dances better than he campaigns.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • Nastiness and politics go together like expensive coffee and free wifi. Presidential races often prompt urges for civility. Even so, the forces of decency, propriety and good taste kinda have a point this year.
  • Don’t count Donald Trump as a supporter of Rick Perry for Senate 2018 just yet. He’s more of a fight promoter at this point, or — dare we say it — a polished politician.
  • For all of the talk about how Trump might hurt the chances for other Republicans on the ballot, Texas conservatives don’t seem all that worried. It’s because they’re on safe political ground.

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