Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the Republican presidential race at least in part because the other candidates for the top spot on the GOP ticket in 2012 didn’t look strong enough to defeat President Obama.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Perry’s main contribution to the campaign turned out to be that he made one of those other candidates stronger?

Before Perry announced his candidacy — and instantly became the front-runner — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the putative leader of the pack.

But Romney seemed listless and unmotivated; his campaign lacked a sense of purpose. He just didn’t look like someone who was poised to send the incumbent president scurrying home to Chicago.

But then, along came Perry, oozing Texas charm and bold pronouncements, teasing tea party devotees with unbridled contempt for government and enticing voters of every stripe with tales of job creation in the Lone Star State.

How could Romney’s boring, practiced slickness stand up to the raw, almost dangerous appeal of the coyote-shooting Perry?

Very well, it turns out. Perry has made Romney a better candidate.

Looking back at his pre-Perry candidacy, it seems entirely possible that Romney felt unchallenged.

Looking across the stage during Republican debates, perhaps Romney saw no one he considered a worthy opponent — this is not a man who lacks self-confidence, it must be said — and therefore saw no need to arm himself for serious political combat.

Perry, on the other hand, was a formidable foe, a fierce adversary whose defeat would require Romney to unleash whatever competitive spirit he possessed.

The Romney we saw going one-on-one with Perry in last Thursday night’s televised debate was not the Romney we’d seen cruising through earlier debates and media interviews.

This Romney was focused, feisty, relentless. Even his tendency toward condescension became a useful weapon rather than an annoying distraction.

That said, are we now predicting that Romney will sweep Perry aside and march on to the nomination? Not necessarily.

But we’re suddenly seeing Romney in a new light, and the GOP race is suddenly more interesting.

We can’t wait to see what happens next.