That's exactly what Stanford says he saw Perry do to Kay Bailey Hutchison when he beat her in the 2010 Republican primary. In April of that year, when country club Bush Republicans were still looking down their noses at the Tea Party, Perry spotted what Stanford calls "the simple campaign algebra" and ran with it.
"He's down by a couple dozen points against this really popular lady," Stanford remembers. "He figures his only chance really is to say she's Washington. And then suddenly the pitchfork crowd comes up and says, 'We hate Washington.'"
Stanford says Perry's quick response was, "'Oh cool, here's my army. I shall lead them.'
"Before any politician in the country was willing to talk to the Tea Party," he says, "he spoke to three of their rallies in one day. He was the only guy in the country. He saw the train coming down the tracks that he knew he'd have to take."
To these personal gifts another important asset must be added: a campaign staff so brilliant it's already being studied by political scientists across the country. In his book excerpt, "Rick Perry and His Eggheads," journalist Sasha Issenberg explains how the Perry gubernatorial campaign in 2010 allied with a team of political scientists from Yale, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Maryland.
And then there's the pure weirdness of Texas, and Perry's ability to exploit it. Stanford says Perry has whipped a succession of candidates who may have been smarter than he was about the world because Perry was smarter than they were about Texas.
"Rick Perry always knew that to be Texas governor, first in the voters' eyes you had to be Texas," Stanford says. "He did an ad campaign, 'I'm proud of Texas, how about you?' If you're attacking Rick Perry, you're attacking Texas. He always sets it up that way."
Perhaps the last question, then, is whether being proud of Texas can get Perry elected president.