Rick Perry, the ‘no apologies’ candidate

at 02:14 PM ET, 08/16/2011


Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Twelve hours removed from a controversy about his suggestion that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was engaging in “treasonous” behavior Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign didn’t try to walk back the remark. In fact, they doubled down on it.

“I am passionate about the issue but I stand by what I said,” Perry told reporters in Iowa today.

Although Perry’s campaign is only a few days old, the episode provides a telling insight into the Texas governor: he is brash, bold and unapologetic about being so.

And that just might make him a perfect fit for the current Republican primary electorate who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

A look back across Perry’s rhetorical history suggests that this latest controversy is nothing new.

Perry famously floated the idea of Texas seceding from the United States if the federal government kept trampling on states’ rights in 2009; he referred to the BP oil spill as an “act of God”; and he once asked Texans to pray for rain to end the state’s drought.

In each case — and many, many more — his critics (and they are legion in Texas) seized on the remark as evidence that Perry was out of touch with average voters.

And, time and again Perry refused to back away from his comments and felt no political pain as a result. Perry is the longest serving governor in the country — he ascended to the office in 2000 following George W. Bush’s election as president — and in 2010 convincingly defeated Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in a Republican primary and former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election. Both races were less competitive than many people expected them to be.

Put simply: Rick Perry doesn’t apologize — and it’s worked for him politically.

Now, that strategy working in Texas and it working on the national stage are two different things. But, there is some evidence that Perry’s strategy could be successful again in the context of a Republican presidential primary.

As we’ve written before, the Republican primary electorate wants a candidate who prosecutes the case against President Obama and his policies in the most confrontational way possible.

Given that, they are drawn to candidates who make statements that the media, Democrats and even some within the GOP establishment deem as controversial. (What else could explain the rapid rise of businessman Donald Trump in hypothetical 2012 polling earlier this year.)

Perry is positioning himself as the guy who says what he means and means what he says. The guy who won’t back down in the face of controversy. The guy who believes deeply enough in conservative principles to not apologize for them.

Whether intentionally or not — and we are guessing it is intentional — Perry is drawing a clear contrast with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who is still trying to shed the reputation, acquired in the 2008 campaign, of flip-flopping on issues critical to conservatives. (Ironically enough, the title of Romney’s campaign-themed book is “No Apology”.)

While Perry’s unapologetic approach to politics might appeal to Republican primary voters, it may well find less success in a general election where the name of the game is courting independent voters.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said today that “when you are president or running for president, you have to think about your words,” adding:”I certainly think threatening the Fed chairman is not a good idea.”

That’s a preview of the likely line of attack Democrats would adopt if Perry wound up as the Republican nominee — subtly (and not so subtly) reminding independent voters of what happened the last time a swashbuckling-styled Texas governor became president.

Therein lies the danger in Perry’s approach to the race. Yes, his willingness to take stands — verbal and otherwise — and stick to them will win him the adulation of the voters who will have an outsized say in determining the identity of the Republican nominee in 2012.

But that same approach could alienate him from independent voters , the same voters that President Obama has been assiduously courting for months.

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