Earlier this week I reported on the provocative move by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to apply his fondness for the 10th Amendment to gay marriage. He said last week: “Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
But now, as First Read reports, he’s backtracking, sort of:
In an interview with socially conservative Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Perry said he remains opposed to gay marriage and that he should have added “a few words” to clarify the statement.
“I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue,” Perry said according to FRC. “Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.”
But is this really a “backtrack”? After all, his conclusion (allow states to choose) is still the same. This is unlikely to please either Christian conservatives or libertarian, pro-gay-rights voters. And it smacks of the sort of waffling that got Mitt Romney into trouble in 2008. Frankly, Perry has so locked himself into a staunch 10th Amendment position that he’s going to face a lot more questions on everything from gay rights to the EPA (does he want to disband it). In an interview with me earlier in the year, he made clear that he opposes federal tort reform since it impinges on the civil courts of states. How is that going to go over with business leaders and with conservative health-care reformers who want the federal government to step in to tamp down on abusive litigation?
An adviser on another Republican campaign wisecracked to me: “So, the governor was ‘fine with’ gay marriage before he was ‘not fine’ with it. As Perry thinks about tossing his cowboy hat in the ring, everyone will see that this is just one in a Texas-sized string of flip-flops.” You can see the attack ads now.
This episode also bespeaks of a more fundamental problem for the Perry pre-campaign. His words are now highly scrutinized, but he lacks the infrastructure (a policy director, for example) to prevent these sorts of nettlesome problems.
Certainly, the country’s longest sitting governor is no stranger to the media. But state media, no matter how aggressive, simply doesn’t compare to the barrage of questioning and intense scrutiny that goes with the presidency. If Perry is going to avoid the Fred Thompson phenomenon (good on paper, but lousy in a presidential contest) he will need to get up to speed fast, figure out how he is going to navigate through many of these issues and bring in a team that is as familiar with presidential politics as it is with him.