The sign of a smart political candidate is how well he can absorb a gaffe or an attack, and turn it around on his opponents. (The classic example was Ronald Reagan deflecting questions about his age by promising not to use Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” against him). By this score, Rick Perry is proving himself a brilliant campaigner.
In his first week on the trail, Perry stumbled when he said that if Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke printed more money it would be “almost treacherous, treasonous.” But Perry quickly turned that gaffe into an opportunity when President Obama warned him that “you’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say.” The Texas governor jumped at the chance to engage the president directly and turn the discussion back to his central message: jobs. “Yesterday, the president said I needed to watch what I say,” Perry told an audience in New Hampshire to laughter from the audience. “Mr. President, actions speak louder than words. My actions as governor are helping to create jobs in this country. The president’s actions are killing jobs in this country.”
This week, Politico published an article titled “Is Rick Perry Dumb?” As the chattering classes buzzed about his intelligence (or supposed lack thereof), Perry deftly took that swipe and turned it into an attack on President Obama. On Sean Hannity’s radio show, Perry dismissed the questions about his intelligence as “the same old attacks they made against President Reagan and against every prominent effective conservative.” And then he moved in for the kill:
[In] the state of Texas, we’ve created an economy here that leads the nation in job creation… What’s dumb is to oversee an economy that has lost that many millions of jobs, to put unemployment numbers over his four years will stay probably at 9 percent, to downgrade the credit of this good country, to put fiscal policies in place that were a disaster in the ‘30s and try them again in the 2000s – that’s what I consider to be the definition of dumb.
Listen to it here:
With this, Perry not only deflected the attack, he also used it to focus attention back on the topic he knows will decide the next election: jobs. It was disciplined, clever and effective.
So the question is: If Rick Perry is so “dumb,” why is he such a smart campaigner?