In an Austin interview with Mark Halperin, Rick Perry says he has decided he wants to be president, talks about the advice he got from George W. Bush, and says he would compete against Barack Obama in California. Highlights here. Subscribers can read Halperin’s story on Perry in the latest issue of TIME.
Video highlight: Perry says he has decided he wants to be president.
Video highlight: Perry on 43’s advice to him.
Transcript of Mark Halperin’s Interview with Rick Perry
Halperin: Tell me what being a Texan means to you.
Perry: (Laughs.) Man, the history of the state is a very compelling story—a place that was carved out of rather hard, harsh geography and climate. I think it was General Sheridan who said, “If I owned Hell and Texas, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” This is a harsh place originally, and still can be. [It was] 107 degrees yesterday. I talked to my folks and [there’s a] very dry, very brutal drought going on—but we always have a rather cheery optimism about ourselves as my father is prone to say. It’ll rain, it always does. That’s the classic faith of a dry-land cotton farmer. And I think it’s the faith that Texans—when you get at their gut-level—[have]. Now Texas has become this incredible melting pot. But people who come here—and they become Texans—they desire to become Texans, they want to be a part of this thing, they want to get a Texas flag and put it on— whether it’s on their vehicle or flying from their house, or what have you. So, for me, the essence of being a Texan is, these are people who can sustain through hard times, but they’re people who always think that better days are ahead.
There are people who have said that you’ve benefited a lot from luck in your career.
Is that true?
You know, I’ll take as much luck as I can have. But, I think my success is where some amount of luck has intertwined and intersected with hard work.
People have also said that you benefited from good timing. Is that true?
I consider good timing and luck to probably be parallel and God bless all of them.
You’ve been pretty busy doing lots of stuff including looking at possibly running. Have you had time to think about how you’d like to do the job of President if you got elected?
That is obviously an issue that is always in conversation or in your mind. At lunch today, [South Carolina Rep.] Tim Scott and I were talking about, “What do you do in the first 100 days?” So, yes, it’s not a, as we go through the appropriate thought process of making a decision about whether or not we’re going to run for the presidency—there’s certainly a parallel track that is ongoing about what do you do when you get there. What [are] America’s needs? And I’ve boiled it down pretty quickly to the four principles that we put in place in Texas that have worked rather well while the rest of the country has been going through some—most certainly the big states—pretty rough times. Texas has—I won’t say we’ve somehow totally missed this recession—but we’ve weathered it better than any other state from the standpoint of job creation. I think that is inarguable. But, don’t spend all the money. I mean, in Washington D.C. if you want to just get down to the pure epicenter, the nucleus of the problem in Washington D.C., is they’re spending too much money. Have a tax structure that’s fair, and as low as you can have it, and still deliver the services that the people require. Have a regulatory climate that is fair, predictable. Predictability is so important. Today in Washington D.C. the idea of predictability in the regulatory climate—it’s not there. That’s the reason there are so many people sitting on their money rather than investing it and taking the entrepreneurial risk. Then obviously, the fourth is to have a legal system that doesn’t allow for over-suing. And then government needs to step back and get out of the way. Stepping back and getting out of the way at the federal level is about allowing the states to compete against each other, the idea that Washington knows best how to educate our children, or knows best how to deliver health care our citizens, or for that matter knows best how to clean up the air. There are examples of each of those that I could go into, but I don’t want to filibuster here.
Part of what the process involves now is whether you can raise enough money. Can you get to the early states enough? But part of it must be, I assume, whether you want to do it still.
Right, is that still an open question?
We’re having that conversation. I mean, you and I having this conversation has answered that question.
About whether you want to run?
Sure. I mean I wouldn’t be this far into the process…
So you went from a few months ago, being totally uninterested…
No, I got the best job in America, to today, being fully engaged in this process of making a decision. The issue of, “is this what I want to do?” was dealt with about 45 days ago in a conversation with my wife. Prior to that, no. Being the President of the United States was not on my radar screen from the standpoint of something I want to do.
Was that a spontaneous conversation?
No, not at all. My wife has been poking me in the side, pointing something out.
Did you two say, let’s sit down and figure this out today?
That is a good description. We sat down. My wife, who is a nurse, whose father practiced medicine in that little hometown [that] she grew [in] 52 years is greatly concerned about what’s going to happen to the ability to access health care, the innovation that goes with. I mean we’ve got one of the finest, if not the best, health care systems in the world. She sees Obamacare as destroying that. Obviously as a CEO of a state, the cost associated with this is going to just going to be monstrous—$2.7 billion dollars a year for taxes. And then the secondary, and just as important reason, but I’ll just say the second reason we had this conversation is a 27-year-old and a 24-year-old who are our children. And this monstrous debt that’s been created that’s going to be on their back. They’re going to have to be the generation that doesn’t have the same opportunities that we had because of this out-of-control spending in Washington D.C. Basically, this experiment that this President has sent this country through has been an absolute disaster. So her concerns about the profession that she has spent her lifetime in and loves, being destroyed, and the impact on her children, and the conversation, if I can paraphrase was, “I know you love what you do. I know you think it’s the greatest job in the country. But our country is in trouble, and you need to do your duty.” And at that particular point in time, a person that I greatly love who I’ve been either dating or married to for I think 45 years now, made me realize that I couldn’t sit on the sidelines if my country’s future truly is at stake. And I believe our country truly is at stake, and the future of what we’re going to look like is a problem.
Does any aspect of running for President intimidate you?
Does any aspect of it excite you or enthuse you?
Yeah, I’m kind of getting to the all-in point and the idea that, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, this is starting to get to that comfort level and I’ve got the calmness in my heart. I think that was a bit of a hurdle initially but I’m very calm in my heart that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
How does your faith inform your interest in being in public office?
Yeah, no different than it would a doctor or a lawyer or anyone else who does their job and that is a faithful individual. You know, my faith sustains me. I’m quite comfortable with my faith, but it is very much a foundation of my life and has been since my mid-20s.
You’ve talked about how all of the social issues are important and this election is going to be about what the voters care most about: economy and jobs. Is it your hope, if you become a candidate, that even voters who disagree with you on social issues will find your record and argument on jobs so compelling that they vote for you even though they did disagree with you?
Well, I’m pretty sure there has never been a candidate [where] all the people agree with his or her positions on the issues. And there are single-issue voters, and I understand that. I respect that. I’ve run three times in Texas and I would suggest to you, Texas is somewhat of a microcosm of the rest of the country, particularly in this first decade of the 21st century. We are very, very cosmopolitan, if you will, very urban, but we have our rural areas. We have an incredible diversity of people [who] live in this state. This is not the Texas of my father. It is a very diverse state. Running for the governorship of the state of Texas, I recognized all the diversity of thought.
So, what’s the most important thing that’s facing this country? It’s getting this economy back. I am a pro-business governor. I will be a pro-business President if this does, in fact, ensue and I’m blessed to be elected President of the United States—unabashedly [so] because the fact of the matter is, there’s nothing more important than having an environment created by government that allows for the private sector to risk its capital to know that they have a good chance of having a return on the investment. Because at that particular point in time, the men and women who are out of work today can be back employed. They can take care of their family. They can do the things they desire in their lives. And without that strong economy, America can’t be strong militarily. We can’t have, frankly a presence in the world that we need to have. It all goes back to having an economy that people are comfortable with—they can risk their capital and they’ll have a return on the investment. We don’t have that today.
There are people who’ve looked up—even though you’re not yet a candidate—your record and your endorsement of Mayor Giuliani in the last campaign, some of the positions you’ve taken on immigration, etcetera, and they say Rick Perry is not actually as conservative as he says. What do you say to those people?
Well, you know, I stand on my record. I thought Mayor Giuliani did a wonderful job of managing a city. He was very strong militarily. He was as strong on crime as any big city Mayor has ever been. He and I were 180 degrees on social issues, but he would put strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, which dealt with those social issues. I happen to be comfortable that I was making the right decisions and that as President, when it comes to those social issues, it’s very important to have that strict constructionist view of who you put on the Supreme Court. Because they’d look at the constitution and say, you know what, that issue dealing with abortion is not in the constitution. We will put it back to the states. Now if the states want to pass an amendment and three quarters of the states want to pass an amendment to make this be a change of our United States constitution, then just follow that process. And I’m a big believer that that’s how our country should work.
So if you got in, would you be the most conservative candidate in the race? Or as conservative as everybody else?
Yeah I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But again, we go back to what’s the most important issue here? I mean if somebody wants to go back and find, oh here’s a little spot right here—you know, I was a democrat at one time in my life. I was 25 years old before I think I ever met a person who would admit being a Republican. So the key is, I’ve got a record. And that record, particularly when it comes to the most important issues in this campaign, which is creating the climate of America that gives incentives to job creators to risk their capital and create jobs for our citizens, I will put that up against anybody who’s running and particularly against this President we have today, whose jobs record is abysmal.
You told the AP last year, on Election Day, I think, that you had some positions that were too extreme for a Presidential candidate. Were you kidding? What’s the context of that? What were you thinking of?
I think we were having a little tongue-in-cheek conversation there. Look, I think anyone will try to take a position of mine [and] try to make it extreme. But I’m going to always go back to listen— what’s important to you as an American? Is it truly getting America back economically? Focused on the creation of jobs so that our citizens, I mean, if there’s some social issue that you disagree with me with, does that far outweigh this clear focus of mine on working with congress and having a very clear and strong position with congress to cut back on the spending, have a regulatory climate that’s fair and predicable, a legal system that doesn’t allow for over-suing, and a tax system that is as low as it can be? And frees up these job creators so that they truly can give people the opportunity to take care of their families because they’ve got a job.
A generation ago, Republican Presidential candidates, President Reagan in particular, competed coast to coast: New Jersey, California, states that have become, now, reliably democratic. If you ran would you aspire to campaign in California and win that in the general election?
Yes sir, I actually have had that conversation. Now I’m enough of a realist to know that California is a pretty high hurdle for a Republican. But I’m going to go out there and I’m going to have a story that’ll [make] a lot of people—Independents and maybe even some Democrats—look at me and go, “That’s the type of individual that we can get behind. You know to make America proud of itself again.” I think America is an exceptional country. I think we have a great story to tell. I think the world needs a strong America both economically and militarily.
I know if you run, you would have foreign policy positions—you give speeches on that. But what are sort of the basic tenets of Rick Perry’s view of America in the world?
Our friends need to know that we’re their friends. The Latvian Prime Minister was in my office three weeks ago and we were having this conversation about the current administration and the almost aimless or wavering position that he takes from a foreign policy standpoint relative to eastern Europe and those counties who are abutted by folks who might not be their friends. Might have thoughts of impacting their country. The idea that the President would make this statement about going back to the ’67 borders sent a chill down all of my friends’ back and certainly mine. Israel is our friend. Israel is a democracy in the middle of a part of the world where having a democracy is really important. Our friends, if I am blessed to become the President of the United States, will know that we will be there day in and day out. I think the most important thing that we can do from a foreign policy standpoint is to be strong economically. Because if we’re not strong economically, we cannot have the resources to be strong militarily. And if we’re not strong militarily than our foreign policy becomes haphazard at best, because countries look at the United States and go, “Well we’ll do what we please because you don’t have the for with all to sent a message that we’re going to be strong militarily. It’s funny how all these things point back to one thing. And that one thing is putting policies in place in the United States to create an environment where job creators have the confidence and can risk their capital and have a good return on the investment.
You’ve been talking to a bunch of people about running for President—whether you should. What’s it like? Who’s given you good advice about what it’s like to run or how to run?
You know, as you said, I’ve talked to a lot of people and no one individual jumps out. I think everyone had a different idea. I fall back on [the fact that] I’ve run for public office in Texas statewide, I think, six times and the lessons learned there. I’ve been involved in Presidential campaigns through the years, and look, there’s 24 hours in every day. And how you manage them, whether you’re running for the presidency of the United States or whether you’re running for the governor of Texas, I think, is instructive. You can have a good team of people that you not only respect but trust. You’ve obviously got to have an organization across the country and then you just, you manage that. So the idea that there’s somebody who has come up and put their arm around me somewhere and said, “Okay, here’s how you do it,”—that hasn’t happened. People are looking for someone they can get excited about. They’re looking for somebody who’s got a vision and is frankly bright and positive about the future of America. And I cant think of anything that’s brighter, that’s more positive for the future of America than creating this environment where people know they can get up every day, go to work, have a job and take care of [their] family.
Have you talked to President W. Bush about what it’s like to run?
Yeah we had lots of conversations back, generally back when he was the President. I have. I called him … early in this process, when this thing was just kind of popping around. Actually I called him on his birthday, on July the 6th just to wish him a happy birthday. And this was, I guess it was just kind of starting to bubble up around the first of July as I recall, and he said, “You’ll do what’s right.” He said you don’t want to wake up when you’re 70 and go, “I wish I had tried that. I wish I had done that. “
Just can I put to rest this notion that there’s tension between, if not you and President Bush, the Perry political family and Bush. Is there?
Not from my perspective, and certainly not between George W. Bush and I. And frankly, his dad, I mean, I got great respect for them. And the President 43 and I have a very good personal warm relationship. If there are people that were on his team [in] the past that haven’t agreed on policy or picked a different horse in a political race—you look back over my political career, and if I chastised and removed everyone who’s been on the other side of me in a political race I wouldn’t have any friends or helpers.
A lot of people have said President Obama will be tough to beat because he’s a very formidable fundraiser. What kind of confidence do you have that you would be able to go toe to toe with him raising money.
I think it will be quite competitive in the fundraising side.
So that doesn’t intimidate you or worry you at all?
Not a bit.
Correction: An earlier version of this transcript incorrectly quoted Rick Perry as saying he met with the Libyan prime minister.