The virtual unanimous opinion of media, Republican operatives and donors of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s performance in the last debate was that he looked alternatively annoyed, uncomfortable and tired. His confession that debates aren’t his “strong suit” suggested a sense of grim recognition has set in: Perry can’t win the voters over on policy or presentation.
Self-pity seems to have overtaken the Perry camp. Anita Perry complains, “We are being brutalized by our opponents and our own party.” Are these folks ready for the onslaught from President Obama? Plainly not, especially since almost all of her husband’s problems have been self-inflicted. But the thin-skinnedness is perhaps explainable if you think God has tapped you on the shoulder. She adds, “So much of that is, I think they look at him, because of his faith. He is the only true conservative — well, there are some true conservatives. And they’re there for good reasons. And they may feel like God called them, too. But I truly feel like we are here for that purpose.” Those poor benighted fools don’t know God selected him, not them! Does she really believe that Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) are attacking him because of his faith? And don’t think I’m picking on Mrs. Perry. Perry himself has repeatedly explained that he’s been tapped as well. Maybe he should have listened to his own counsel. At one point he explained to Neil Cavuto, “A prophet is generally not loved in their [sic] hometown.” Perhaps his prophesy doesn’t go down elsewhere either.
It is ironic Perry’s wife should be whining about religious prejudice, given her husband's refusal to denounce the overt bigotry of Pastor Robert Jeffress.
Self-pity soon degenerates into anger. Perry is reportedly mounting a negative ad campaign against Mitt Romney. This, of course, misses the point that Herman Cain (who also thinks he’s been called to run) would be the beneficiary. Romney senior adviser Stuart Stevens replied matter-of-factly when I asked about the expected onslaught. “Rick Perry has a Rick Perry problem, not a Mitt Romney or Herman Cain problem,” he said.
Stevens is happy to point out that a ultra-negative ad campaign has its drawbacks. “At some point, donors and others need to start asking Governor Perry’s campaign if they are more interested in defeating Obama or going down a destructive path cheered by the White House.” More to the point, Perry has never launched a positive message; voters may come away with the impression that he is simply a bitter, panicky pol.
All of this must certainly be a shock to Perry. His record was never scrutinized to this extent in Texas. He never faced debate after debate against skilled opponents. Governors are in many states the king of the mountain. People grovel and flatter them. They go speak to friendly crowds day after day. And they get all the trappings of power — limos, helicopters, security entourages. On that score, a staffer from an opposing camp after the debate told me: “He had seven Texas Rangers in the hallway of the Hanover Inn in Dartmouth. He took four with him in the walk-through. He had a motorcade of five SUVs to go to a frat house, where he declared the War of Independence was in the 16th century.” Full of ego, light on the facts. Come to think of it, that’s a good summation of Perry’s campaign.