Many political observers thought Texas Gov. Rick Perry snuffed out his national future when he blanked on a presidential debate stage and shrugged, "Oops."
But Perry is not one of them.
The outgoing Texas governor, who flopped in the 2012 Republican presidential race, is preparing to try again in the wide-open 2016 race. His calculation, as he told me over a heaping "T-Man" brisket order at Bert's Bar-B-Q in Austin, is that average voters will both relate to his flub and credit him from mounting a political comeback.
The 2016 competition will almost certainly be stiffer than it was in 2012. Instead of just one heavyweight rival (Mitt Romney), he might have to compete for money and votes with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov, John Kasich and former Florida Gov, Jeb Bush, among others. Some advisers think Romney himself could yet jump in.
Moreover, Perry will be a former governor, since Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has been elected to succeed him. Incumbent governors, especially in mega-states like Texas, enjoy immense fund-raising leverage over businesses and interest groups seeking their favor in state capitals.
The 2012 belly-flop symbolized by "Oops"—a moment that went viral from social media to "Saturday Night Live" to Comedy Central—represents a substantial obstacle to Perry's ambitions. But some things about his 2016 attempt will be different.
The governor's sporting new glasses. He says they correct for deteriorating vision from a 1960s eye injury—and are not an attempt to appear more studious.
Yet he acknowledges he has been more studious this time around, spending more than 20 months poring over national issues. Because he was "a little arrogant," Perry said in an interview, he neglected that preparation in his late-starting 2012 race.
He's also using humor to deflect the embarrassment of Oops. Perry has always taken the moment with good grace, and did again in our interview. His hope is that it will prove a humanizing moment in the long run. The humor is his attempt to turn mockery into endearment.
That's why he raises the matter himself in speeches, for laughs. "It works," he said with a chuckle.
Perry plans to make a final decision on entering the race in mid-2015. That would give him time to clear an obstacle to his ambition that isn't so funny—felony charges for abuse of power over his attempt to force the resignation of a Democratic district attorney.