Is Rick Perry too George W. Bush-y?

at 10:00 AM ET, 06/21/2011

Plenty of people think Rick Perry sounds like a candidate for president these days.

In fact, the Texas governor not only sounds like a candidate, but also like an actual president. Specifically, George W. Bush.

As Perry inches closer to a run for president, some of his opponents maintain his one big vulnerability is not his record or the team around him, but rather his voice, accent and his mannerisms. In other words, he’s just too Bush-y.

Perry’s accent is similar to his fellow Texan, as is the swagger and the way Perry enunciates his points when he speaks. He pronounces “American” like Bush, smiles like Bush and drops the ‘g’ at the end of words – lovin’, spendin’ – just like Bush.

Some Republicans say the physical and verbal similarities are more of a problem than the fact that Perry was Bush’s lieutenant governor.

“There will be a sizable portion of the primary electorate that will be hesitant to vote for ‘another George W. Bush,’ whether that’s fair or not to hang on Gov. Perry,” said an operative assisting another candidate in the GOP field.

Other aides working for potential Perry opponents go so far as to say the likeness basically disqualifies Perry – or at least will prevent him from winning.

Perry’s team disagrees, dismissing such comparisons as “inside baseball” that has no real effect on Perry’s chances.

“I think voters are much more concerned about their next paycheck then about some contrived similarities in mannerisms,” said Perry strategist David Carney. “The Bush haters need to get a new hobby.”

Carney has a point, in that Bush isn’t as much an issue as he used to be. While the president left office with extremely low approval ratings, his years out of office have been kind to him, and Gallup found late last year that his approval rating was actually higher than President Obama’s.

But just because people don’t dislike Bush as much as they used to doesn’t mean they would vote for him again. The Bush years still engender plenty of negative reactions, and Republicans would rather have a candidate that can’t be tied to those days — whether literally or symbolically — particularly given that Obama continues to blame Bush for the economic downturn currently saddling his administration.

“The Obama campaign will try to morph whomever we nominate into some kind of Bush clone,” said one unaligned GOP strategist.

Whether Perry’s Bush-iness actually becomes an issue remains to be seen, but it’s easier to liken him to Bush than it would be with any of the other potential 2012 candidates.

There’s irony in that for political insiders since Perry and Bush are not — nor have they ever been — particularly close. The two men didn’t get along all that well when Perry was Bush’s deputy and have completely different governing styles and teams of advisers.

Perry also comes from much humbler – not to mention Democratic – roots and is decidedly more conservative than Bush. (Perry was a Democrat until 1989, when he switched parties.)

In other words, if Perry runs for president, his campaign would be decidedly less Bush than a lot of his competitors, who have already hired aides to the former president.

Issues like this one, while superficial, can matter, and he would have to be mindful of the parallels people would be drawing in their minds, however.

Superficial things can easy to alter or can be very hard – look at Tim Pawlenty’s brief foray into a more fire-and-brimstone speaking style. In the end, though, a candidate will always find it easier and more comfortable just to be themselves.

The question for Perry is whether that self is too similar to a certain somebody else.

 
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