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Perry still looks strong despite phony indictment

The so-called "abuse of power" indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry is not only NOT going to hurt him in the 2016 GOP sweepstakes, it might actually help him.

Perry immediately fired back at the charges with no hesitation, labeling the indictment the partisan political ploy that it really is. And, in terms of threatening to veto legislation that would have funded the state's Public Integrity Unit, run by Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, Perry held his Texas constitutional ground. In a number of TV appearances, Perry not only said that he was legally authorized to defund the DA, but that he would do it all over again if he had the chance.

Rick Perry, governor of Texas
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Rick Perry, governor of Texas

There's a whole history of the liberal Travis County DA's office trying unsuccessfully to criminalize politics with grand-jury indictments. None of it has worked before, and it's highly unlikely that it's going to work again. Even liberals like David Axelrod, Jonathan Turley, and Alan Dershowitz have essentially said that the DA has virtually no case. Kind of reminds me of the phony Democratic DA charges leveled at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

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If you followed this logic through in Washington, the Republicans would launch impeachment trials every time they disagreed with President Obama. And that would be a very bad idea. It would subvert the Constitution, just like in Texas.

It's okay to have policy disagreements. But it's not okay to criminalize them. Policies are decided by elections, legislatures, and chief executives. Not by grand juries.

Basically, Rick Perry argued that DA Lehmberg should resign from her office because of a DWI arrest, where she had three times the legal limit of alcohol in her system. She also made a ruckus during her arrest and eventually served some time in the pokey. Perry says that disqualifies her from her high office. Democrats say it doesn't. Okay, fine. Slug it out at the ballot box.

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Returning to the 2016 implications of this event, Perry looked strong and tough in his quick reaction to the indictment. He's been doing a lot of that lately. Perry has won high marks for putting the Texas National Guard on the U.S.-Mexico border to halt the catastrophic flood of unaccompanied children from Central America. He's been successfully campaigning in Iowa to elect Joni Ernst. And over the past year and half, he's been touring the country with his pro-growth, pro-business, "Texas model" of low taxes, deregulation, and frivolous-lawsuit tort reform. And he's winning businesses over: Businesses are moving to Texas, where the business climate is a lot more hospitable than it is in New York, Illinois, or California.

And Perry's not shy about his record: In a very clever political-marketing campaign, when Perry enters high-tax states with poor business track records, his team runs TV and radio ads with the governor's clear message of attracting businesses to Texas.

All of this is gradually erasing memories of the governor's failed presidential campaign in 2012. It was a failure, in part, because he was just coming off a back operation. He shouldn't have run in the first place. But frankly, Perry was not up to speed on a number of key issues.

But that was then and this is now.

At a time when the country wants strong executive leadership at home and abroad, and with Barack Obama's approval ratings collapsing on both fronts, Perry looks like a strong leader.

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Now, let me make this very clear: I am not endorsing anyone for 2016. I know Governor Perry very well and I admire him enormously. But the same is true for Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Mike Pence in Indiana, John Kasich in Ohio, Jeb Bush, and others. I am not taking a position. It's way too early.

But I will say this: The GOP has a deep bench this time around. And the GOP governors — all across the country, really — have a strong "red state" economic-growth message. And after nearly six years of Obama business-bashing, with more to come in this midterm election campaign, the red-state Texas message is going to be a big relief to voters who believe strongly that the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction.

I'm not making a choice. But even with this crazy indictment, Perry will remain in the thick of it for 2016.

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

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