Texas Gov. Rick Perry has leapt to the front of the Republican presidential race with fiery remarks aimed squarely at the party’s conservative base, calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and labeling President Obama “an abject liar” and a “socialist.”
But behind the scenes in meetings with wealthy donors, Perry has struck a far more measured tone, according to participants in several recent events. He emphasizes his ability to appeal to independents, Latinos and other voters necessary to win the White House and notes that he has complimented Obama for actions he considers favorable, such as killing Osama bin Laden. . . .
Even some Perry supporters acknowledge that potential donors remain wary. “There are definitely people who want to see more fleshing out of the governor’s statements,” said Bill Diamond, a veteran party donor who was scheduled to hold a fundraiser for Perry on Wednesday in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Some will roll their eyes at this, finding some hypocrisy in telling different audiences different messages. Sometimes the dichotomy between public Perry and private Perry is stark. “At that first debate, Perry electrified the GOP race with his incendiary rhetoric, calling Social Security a ‘monstrous lie’ and castigating Obama in stark terms. But the next day, at a fundraising dinner hosted by a Los Angeles real estate broker, Perry emphasized his appeal to moderates and his undefeated history in Texas elections, according to a participant.”
I actually think his supporters should find this a hopeful sign. If Perry has a more serious side and understands that his smash-mouth routine has his limits, maybe he can modulate his public persona, reassure moderate voters and not turn off independents. As I have written before, the best politicians convey robust, take-no-prisoners conservatism without pandering to the lowest common denominator or appearing to be anti-intellectual. Perry’s gotten by successfully on his Texas schtick and has never had to refine his public rhetoric or show some policy chops. Now he is running for president and will have to do so.
Interestingly, it is apparent how seriously he takes the need to reach out to Hispanic voters.(“He also talked in detail about his success among Latino voters, a participant said.”) Don’t expect him to flip-flop on the Arizona immigration law or on in-state tuition breaks awarded regardless of immigration status.
What is most noteworthy, however, is the degree to which Perry has spooked investors (and presumably moderate Republicans who don’t have loads of cash). If that is a function of rhetoric, it can be fixed. However, if he really believes what he’s written that the federal government has gone astray since the 1930’s, then he’s not going to get the nomination. There simply isn’t a majority in the GOP for some of his loopier ideas (sending Social Security to the states, repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments, letting states legalize pot). Very soon he’ll have to weigh his pride against his desire to be the GOP nominee. Sometimes sticking to your guns is a losing proposition.