Former Texas Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry focused on his military background during his first visit to South Carolina as an official White House candidate.
“I am so optimistic about our country because I know our people. And I’ve seen our people and I know the history of our people,” Perry told a heavily military crowd at the South Carolina Military Museum in Columbia on Monday.
The longtime governor sought to differentiate himself from other Republican candidates by focusing on his five-year career as an Air Force pilot after college and his own experiences on national security issues while governor.
“From 2003 to around 2010, I wrote a letter a week to a spouse, next of kin, or a loved one of a young Texan who was killed in the War on Terror,” he told reporters shortly after touring the small museum operated by South Carolina’s National Guard. “I understand the toll of this war. Not just on these young men… but on their families.”
Perry was joined Monday by several Navy SEAL veterans who have been honored for their actions in Afghanistan and other wars. The group included Texas native Marcus Luttrell, who received the Navy Cross for his actions fighting the Taliban (chronicled in the book and film “Lone Survivor”), his twin brother Morgan, Medal of Honor winner and Vietnam veteran Michael Thornton of Greenville, and retired Lt. Pete Scobell, who served in the Mideast and helped rescue hostages held by pirates onboard an American cargo ship in 2009 (chronicled in the film “Captain Phillips”).
“I’ve been living in Texas now for 22 years… in 14 years, he’s changed the whole thing in the state of Texas as governor,” Thornton said.
Perry and the others will attend a town hall at the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier in Charleston Harbor later Monday evening.
The governor got into only a few specifics on what national security positions he would take, saying only that “the world is safer when America is stronger.” He did say he would do more to secure the border with Mexico, pointing to his own administration’s mobilization of the Texas National Guard last year to stem an influx of drug smuggling and unaccompanied youth illegally coming into the country. He also spent some time calling on giving states more freedom on education and business regulations.
But most of the speech was focused on praising America’s military members, offering an optimistic view of the future, and criticizing the current state of affairs by comparing them to the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the late 1970s.
“We’ve gone through two World Wars together. We went through the Great Depression. We made it through Jimmy Carter, ladies and gentlemen, we will make it through the Obama years,” Perry said to cheers. “I believe that with all my heart and our best days are in front of us.”
Perry is familiar with South Carolina, having unsuccessfully sought the Palmetto State’s presidential nod in 2012. He was initially considered an early favorite in the military-friendly conservative state, but lost support after a string of gaffes and his own later admission that he had not been prepared to run an effective campaign. He eventually dropped out of the race before the state’s primary.
The Texas governor is also dealing with an indictment handed down in the waning days of his last term. A Travis Count, Texas grand jury handed down the charges amid accusations that Perry abused his office and attempted to coerce a government employee by vetoing the state public corruption unit’s entire budget after its supervisor was arrested for DUI and refused to resign.