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Kudlow: Time for a military man in the White House?

"More than any election since 1980," ace pollster Kellyanne Conway tells me, "2016 will be a national-security contest." And she says former governor Rick Perrymay have the best chance to convince voters that he can be commander-in-chief.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigning for Senate Republican candidate and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, Oct. 24, 2014, in Smithfield, North Carolina
Getty Images
Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigning for Senate Republican candidate and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, Oct. 24, 2014, in Smithfield, North Carolina

Let's think on that. With the world in turmoil, who do you really want sitting across the negotiating table from Vladimir Putin, the Iranian mullahs, or the Chinese? How about a military man to command the war to destroy radical-Islamic jihadism?

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Very few people know that between 1972 and 1977, Perry served in the U.S. Air Force, flying C-130 tactical aircraft in Europe and the Middle East. He is the only current GOP candidate to have worn the military uniform. And he rarely talks about it.

Perry's childhood goal was to learn to fly. He went into the Air Force after graduating from Texas A&M. And he ended his five years of service with the rank of captain. As Perry would say on other subjects, "That matters."

The Perry story usually revolves around the Texas economic-growth miracle. But the military service? The captain's rank? The piloting of strategic-airlift planes? That's hardly known. And in his 14 years as governor of the Lone Star state, plenty of national-security issues (and border-security issues) came across his desk.

So imagine this: A president who actually served in the regular military. A president who understands the military, listens to the military, and has good relations with the military — the opposite of the Obama experience.

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And imagine having a president who looks forward to the daily intelligence briefing, completely unlike Obama. What a change.

Perry spoke last week at a small dinner in New York City. Few there knew Perry had worn the Air Force uniform, much less that he held the rank of captain. But as he addressed the 50 or so at the dinner, it showed. It showed in his ramrod-straight posture. It showed when he described his tough foreign-policy views and opposition to Obama's national-security policies. And it was unmistakable when he so easily discussed the constant need for "a show of force."

Haven't heard that phrase from anyone lately. My wife, whose father was a career Air Force officer, describes "a show of force" as something to intimidate the enemy. She says it means: We're here, we're stronger, and we could really hurt you. You might recall that during the Cold War, hundreds of C-130s flew over Europe as a show of force against Soviet aggression.

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At the recent CPAC conference, Perry devoted nearly two-thirds of his speech to national-security issues. He described a simple truth about current U.S. foreign policy: "Our allies doubt us and our adversaries are all too willing to test us." He sees ISIS and the whole radical-Islamic-jihadist movement as the worst threat to freedom since communism.

In his New York talk, he expressed concern that our military is hollowing out. He's actually running an ad on the Internet about the need to strengthen American national security. No other candidate is doing this.

Perry also strongly supports Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From what we know of the Obama Iran deal, it looks like a very bad deal indeed. And Perry draws attention to how Team Obama has backpedalled on a number of Iran-deal issues, with the result that Iran could be allowed to build nuclear weapons while boosting its economy.

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Perry says: No, Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. He says: No, the U.S. should not normalize relations with Iran until Iran ceases to support terrorist groups that ultimately will target the U.S. and its allies.

Finally, Perry has adopted the Reagan model whereby America must be economically strong in order to be internationally secure.

Unlike his military credentials, his role in the Texas economic miracle is well known. While Perry was governor, low taxes, deregulation, and tort reform led to the creation of nearly one-third of the new private-sector jobs in America. He's a Tenth Amendment man. He loves it when states compete against each other to create a climate of risk-taking and growth. And he wants to bring the Texas economic model to Washington.

Now, it's way too early to endorse anyone for the GOP nomination. That's not my intent here. But it's important to bring out the facts about all the Republican presidential candidates. And most of you might only know half the story about Rick Perry. He's an economic miracle worker, but he's also a military man with national-security credibility.

And in typical military fashion, he's an optimist. Perry has faith. And he believes America's best days are in front of us.

Sounds like a show of force.

Commentary by Larry Kudlow, a senior contributor at CNBC and economics editor of the National Review. Follow him on Twitter @Larry_Kudlow.