No doubt about it: there’s something almost biblical about Rick Perry’s sudden return to the national limelight in GOP politics (though it’s not clear which angelic or demonic role he’s playing). Less than three years ago he announced a presidential campaign that briefly blotted out the sky. In the early states he’d trot out his signature walk-the-stage swagger (sort of an Aggie version of a Mick Jagger performance) and the conservative faithful would swoon at all the testosterone in the air. Then he took the wrong position on how to deal with the DREAMers, and got the humma-hummas, and fell off the national stage with a sickening thud.

Via the very same issue that wrong-footed him in 2011, Perry’s back, as conservative audiences want to hear him bellow about defending the border and the American Identity from all those brown children. WaPo’s Phillip Rucker catches his return-to-Iowa act:

He came here for redemption. At the Clear Lake Evangelical Free Church, Rick Perry held his arms across his torso and swayed as the choir sang during last Sunday’s morning service. He bowed his head while the pastor preached about “God’s perfect plan of salvation….”

After church on Sunday, Perry spoke about the influx of young immigrants in front of about 100 conservative activists, who sat rapt inside a hot and steamy airplane hangar here. When the governor said the words “securing the border,” he clenched his left fist, flexed his bicep and leaned his body forward. He paced side to side with a wireless microphone and no notes, bending his knees for emphasis. He looked like a Texas A&M football coach giving the Aggies a pep talk.

“I’ve walked into the facility where these young kids are being held, and the look in their eyes — the lack of hope, they’re scared,” Perry said. “They’ve been lured here by policies put into place that basically said, ‘If you will come here and you cross that river, you can stay here in America.’ That’s a siren song that has to stop.”

Perry’s found the rhetorical sweet spot on the refugee crisis, all right: wrapping a raw and ugly nativist sentiment in soft Christian solicitude. It’s necessary for the National Guard to force “these young kids” back across the border at gunpoint, you see, because the Evil Stranger With Candy, Barack Obama, has “lured” them here, presumably to put them on welfare and then harvest their votes.

What makes this approach especially effective for Perry is that it echoes the tough-love approach of his signature economic message: anyone needing a job who is willing to be humble and take whatever meager wage the Almighty Investor offers and forswear sissy-pants priorities like safe working conditions and clean air and water and public education and reproductive rights can by come to Texas and prosper. Rick Perry will even slip the Boss Man some subsidies to make sure he doesn’t take his hard-inherited capital to some other public-policy brothel where labor and those who supply it are respected even less. It’s all of a piece of Rick Perry’s persona of Christian Stewardship, which just happens to coincide with the needs of the most powerful and reactionary interests in the country.

I don’t know if Perry’s redemption will last beyond the current crisis, or if he’ll again fall off the stage. But he’s sure got his swagger back.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.