From the opening of Perry’s address, a tribute to Navy SEALs who died in Afghanistan last week, he projected confident, telegenic authenticity. His opening note wasn’t mere red meat for the base. It was bigger than that, and, critically, it was delivered with a believable sincerity. That’s the first thing that could launch him into serious contention for the GOP nomination. With many political candidates, tributes to the troops and other such things often seem awkwardly pre-planned, even opportunistic. Say what you will about the content he presents (and I will below), Perry is talented behind a podium.
He also has a catchy line on what’s likely to be the critical issue of the campaign: jobs. Texas has weathered the struggling economy particularly well, and he forcefully reminded his audience on Saturday with a vindication of his low-tax, low-spending record in the Lone Star State.
But his strengths are offset by massive liabilities.
On content, most of his speech was over-the-top yet familiar boilerplate about how America is the last hope for the world, how Washington is the enemy, how real Americans solve problems — the last point rendered heavily ironic by the right-wing ideological tenor of his address, which all but ruled out one sure-fire way to solve problems in the capital: reasonable compromise. Candidates for federal office often run against Washington. In a very anti-incumbent election year, this message could work even better than usual. Yet bashing Washington is easy, and it doesn’t substitute for substance on policy. But if Perry tries to move beyond rhetoric, particularly in the general election, he will have to explain some of the far-outside-the-mainstream views he has espoused on things such as Medicare, Social Security and federal power. Even his catchy line on jobs reveals an anti-tax orthodoxy — no more on anyone at any time — that places Perry right of the average GOP voter.
For all his talents on stage, Perry also has a way of letting his mouth get ahead of his brain — or at least one hopes that’s what is happening. Before flirting with running for president, Perry was perhaps best known for speculating about Texan secession from the United States. He implicitly addressed this in his speech on Saturday: “I know I’ve talked a lot about Texas here in the last little bit. I’m a Texan and proud of it. But first and foremost I’m an incredibly proud American.” You can bet the secession incident will come up again, despite his preemptive rebuttal. But Perry’s greatest weakness might end up being the alarming comments he decides not to walk back.
Republicans who think Perry could be the savior they’ve been searching for over the last few months should think carefully about whether this politician can really win a national election that will be decided by the center, not by the Tea Party.
Update, 3:15 p.m.: The text above was slightly edited for clarity.
More from PostOpinions: