Does Rick Perry’s Swagger Matter?

Cowboy boots, bravado, outhouses, and what they all mean for the 2016 presidential election.

By Rhonda FanningJuly 22, 2015 8:52 am

The candidate we’re seeing on TV and the campaign trail these days is markedly different than the howdy-greetin’, cowboy-boot-clad Texas governor of four years ago. News outlets across the country have talked about his new glasses, but is Gov. Perry hurting his chances at the nomination by downplaying the bravado?

Will Weissert is an Austin-based reporter for the Associated Press, and he sees Perry’s new image as an attempt to show he’s not the same candidate he was in 2012. “He’s a different candidate this time, and he’s the first one to admit that,” Weissert says.

“When you ask him at all about his campaign, even without using the S word ‘swagger’, he’ll tell you that he’s humbler this time and that he learned a lot from sort of falling flat four years ago,” he says. The image change is supposed to communicate a larger shift in who Perry is as a candidate. “He really feels like not only is he better prepared, but he wants to show people that he’s worked harder,” he explains.

Weisser also thinks that Perry is looking to emulate past cowboy presidents from Texas, like LBJ or President George W. Bush. “He’s definitely a little bit laid back and low-key in his mannerisms [this election].”

Perry’s move to be more mellow this election might also be because his style of campaigning in 2012 didn’t work in states that voted early. “The cowboy bravado that might play well in Texas might not translate so well in early states,” Weisser says. “In that regard, a sort-of humbler Rick Perry might have a better chance appealing to primary voters in a place like Iowa.

And then there’s the cowboy boots.

“Perry certainly has sort of famously left behind his cowboy boots,” Weisser says. “One of the reasons he said he did that is because he had back surgery in 2011.” But that doesn’t explain why Perry is still sans boots in 2016. His lack of boots was especially noticeable this past weekend in Iowa, where he was one of the only Republican candidates without cowboy boots on.

But Weisser says Perry’s choice to ditch the more overtly Texas parts of his campaign aren’t a complete rebranding. “In terms of the actual style of candidate, he’s still very much a country boy,” he says. “He likes to talk about his humble beginnings in Paint Creek, and the fact that when he was boy they had an outhouse that didn’t have any indoor plumbing.”

Weisser says Perry’s goal in 2016 is to be country without the boots. Cowboy without the bravado. “He says that he doesn’t miss the swagger,” Weisser says, “and he doesn’t think that people in states like Iowa maybe miss it either, even though my reporting found that some people maybe do miss it and see him as smaller.”

So if Rick Perry makes it to the debate stage and looks just a little bit shorter this year, it might be because of his downgraded bravado and calmer tone.

Or it might be because he’s not wearing cowboy boots anymore.

Either way, you’d do well to remember that even without the swagger, Gov. Perry is still the only candidate currently in the race who killed a coyotes with a laser-sighted .380 Ruger – while jogging.