Yesterday, I took Texas Gov. Rick Perry to task for his bizarre and unseemly comments that re-raised birtherism and the secession issue. (“Canard” would be a better term than issue.) Today he told CNBC’s John Harwood that he thinks birtherism is a great issue to keep alive. This is on the day Perry is rolling out his economic plan, trying to dig himself out of single digits in the polls and demonstrate he is a credible candidate.
Perhaps credibility is the wrong criterion. The real question regarding Perry is whether he is fit for office. President Obama has been justly criticized for the politics of division, for a mean-spirited and destructive approach to his opponents. Why should the Republicans, who are justified in calling out Obama for questioning everything from their patriotism (“put country before party,” he scolds) to their motives (trying to wreck the economy, the Democratic spin machine says), embrace someone who plays to the other extreme on the political spectrum?
Perry is playing the role of a Texas A&M frat boy, not a contender for leader of the free world and commander in chief. Can such a person be taken seriously?
This is not a problem, by the way, that his staff can fix. This goes to the candidate’s character and judgment. If such a person would stoop to birtherism and secession, and let anti-religious bigotry go without condemnation, where does it stop?
In essence Perry is throwing down the gauntlet to social conservatives: See, you can get away with this and posit yourself as a “values” candidate. Wink, wink. We can be holier than thou and lower than low. Voters may see things differently. Penny Nance, head of Concerned Women for America, seemed unsettled. She e-mailed me: “It seems profoundly off message to me. “ She added that Perry’s comeback is going to depend on how well he can explain his plan “to rescue the nation from collapse.”
Finally, he has put every GOP politician on the spot, just as he did with his extreme rhetoric on Social Security. If you endorse him, do you endorse his flame-throwing? If you appear on the stump, do you want to be asked about birtherism?
Forget tax plans and entitlement reform for a moment. Any think tank can generate one of those. The question simply put is this: Is Perry fit to lead his party and his country?