But it's one thing to give provocative speeches at a Right To Life convention and push a bill through a Republican-dominated state house. Mounting a protracted national political campaign in today's hothouse media environment is an entirely different, and intimidating, enterprise.
"As much as Republicans hate to admit this, it's the national narrative by the political press corps and opinion leaders that's going to be the most difficult bridge to cross," argued one of Perry's 2012 campaign aides. "He has to do some serious rehabilitation. It's much easier to argue he doesn't have a shot."
Those in Perry's small orbit of advisers acknowledge the challenges of a second presidential bid but say that entering the race earlier than last time --- when he jumped in with just four months until the Iowa caucuses -- would give him time to polish his damaged reputation.
"He is real job creator and he has bona fide social credentials," said one Perry confidante. "If he can start strong and stay steady, people will see the real Rick Perry that we all know in Texas. People are looking for leadership and they have short memories. Tiger Woods went out did a bunch of bad stuff, half the country was mad at him, and then he won a golf tournament and we all love him."
The all-consuming burdens of a presidential campaign would be made considerably easier if Perry declines to seek another term as governor, current and former advisers said. In 2011, Perry was kept off the trail for a crucial stretch as he dealt with an outbreak of wildfires back home.
"The mechanics of a presidential run are as important as the person," Dawson said. "The hard work, the raising of money, the ballot access, the CFO, the COO, the political organization. It is like forming a major corporation in six months, and if you haven't done it before it gets overwhelming."
With the notable exception of George W. Bush in 2000, Republicans also have a modern tradition of nominating candidates who have previously run for the office. Of those names frequently mentioned as potential 2016 candidates, only Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have run before.
Senior-level aides to other potential Republican presidential candidates mention Perry as a potentially daunting and underestimated opponent in a GOP primary, though they questioned his ability to win the nomination.
Working in his favor: An impressive administrative resume, unrivaled personal political skills, a strong rapport with evangelicals and social conservatives, and a large Texas-based fundraising network -- even though donors might be understandably skeptical if Perry comes calling about 2016.
"Rick Perry is smart guy despite what happened during that debate," said a top aide to one Republican actively laying groundwork for the next presidential race. "He has good instincts, and he connects well one-on-one. You take that and put it in early states without running for re-election, that's a formidable candidate there. If he can raise money, then opinions will change down in D.C."
A senior adviser to a different 2016 hopeful described Perry's blueprint for victory in three words: "Iowa or bust." The South Carolina primary electorate is not as evangelical-driven as it once was, libertarian-leaning New Hampshire proved to be a non-starter for Perry in 2012, and Florida could be off the table if hometown boys Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio run.
But, this person said, Perry has little reason not to give it a shot.
"Anybody who can go out and raise $50 million, and is a good retail politician, he will sell in Iowa," the strategist said. "It doesn't mean he is going to win. But this foregone conclusion that this guy has no shot in hell only helps him. To lower expectations that low is great. If he holds an event and 100 people show up and a reporter writes about it, that's a story."
Perry himself has so far shown little inclination to engage in the 2016 speculation aside from keeping the door open to a bid. He recently declined an invitation to address a gathering of social conservatives later this summer in Iowa.
The event's organizer, evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, endorsed Santorum before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. But he said he is no longer committed to any Republican and expects Perry to join the Republican battle in 2016.
"I fully expect Governor Perry to run for president in 2016," Vander Plaats told CNN. "That is my intel. He is going to run. I do think there is space for him. There is a lot of Iowans wanting the real Rick Perry to show up. It will be a whole new ball game."