Here’s another reason Republican establishment figures have to be unhappy about Rick Perry’s implied threat towards Ben Bernanke: It plays into the Obama strategy of presenting himself as the “adult in the room” while elevating more prominent expressions of Republican excess or outright whackjobbery and using them as a convenient foil.
The White House was quick to pounce on Perry’s claim today, with spokesman Jay Carney casting it as a sign that Perry doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the presidency:
“When you’re president or you’re running for president you have to think about what you’re saying, because your words have greater impact.”
He continued, “We take the independence of the Federal Reserve quite seriously and certainly think threatening the Fed chairman is probably not a good idea.”
As I said below, I don’t believe that Perry was actually threatening the Fed chairman. The reason Perry’s implied threat matters, in addition to being hilariously wrong on economic substance, is that it revealed a shoot-from-the-hip carelessness that raises questions about his fitness as a presidential candidate, as well as for the presidency itself. As conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin put it, the statement calls into question Perry's “gravitas factor.”
What’s more, the campaign’s subsequent refusal to retract the claim that Ben Bernanke might be engaged in “treasonous” behavior, and the refusal to disavow the threat implied in Perry’s remarks, raises the ugly possibility that Perry and his advisers think this sort of stuff could actually be helpful in a GOP primary. This has to be disconcerting to GOP establishment types who are wary of seeing more of it. Jonathan Martin reports that Perry’s gaffe will reinforce a sense among top GOP donors who want to beat Obama above all else that Perry has a “cowboy problem,” perhaps making them worry about his prospects in a general election.
That’s why the White House is twisting the (metaphorical) knife by suggesting that Perry has revealed that he doesn’t understand the gravity of the presidency or of his bid for it. As Kevin Drum notes today, Obama has settled on a reelection narrative that is centered on the idea that he’s the only “sober, serious guy who’s fit to be president” in the room. He’s running against “Teh Crazy.” You can debate endlessly whether Obama is focusing his attacks too generally on “Congress” or whether he should be calling out Republicans more directly, but the overall objective is clear: Obama’s foil is Republican extremism and excess. Having the most prominent and accomplished true conservative in the presidential race suggest that a Republican Fed chairman may be guilty of treason, while implicity threatening him with a species of Texas frontier justice — even in jest, if that’s how it was intended — can only help in this regard.