Back on the trail in Iowa on Tuesday, Perry appeared less eager to answer questions from reporters, but he refused to back down from the controversy that had erupted. “I’m just passionate about the issue, and we stand by what we said,” he told two reporters as he left a luncheon in Dubuque.
Asked about the Fed in Cedar Rapids on Monday night, Perry said of Bernanke: “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
The attack was unusual; major presidential candidates normally criticize the independent Fed delicately, if at all. And while President Obama appointed him to a second term as Fed chief in 2009, Bernanke had served in the White House under President George W. Bush, who first appointed him to the Fed chairmanship.
Perry’s comments drew a rebuke from many Democrats. More telling was the fact that a number of Republicans, some associated with Bush, also criticized him for being unpresidential. “Governor Perry is going to have to fight the impression that he’s a cowboy from Texas,” said Karl Rove, a critic of Perry in the past, on Fox News. “This simply added to it.”
Perry did not respond when asked by reporters for a reaction to the criticism.
Perry has served more than a decade as governor of the Lone Star State and knows what it takes to win there. But he is on less familiar terrain as he moves to the national stage. In both style and substance, he will be measured differently from ever before, as the opening days of his presidential campaign have shown.
His candidacy has begun with great promise and anticipation. Overnight, Perry has been identified as the Republican who may be best positioned to challenge the current front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for the nomination.
Perry is a robust conservative in a GOP in which the tea party movement and social conservatives hold great sway. He is also a leader with the potential to appeal more to the party establishment, but perhaps only if he can convince Republicans that he is the most electable of their candidates.
Perry loyalists may regard the Bernanke episode as a mini-storm that will pass quickly, a blip that will be written off as part of the learning curve for a new candidate. Maybe they are correct, particularly if Perry quickly learns from the experience.
Other Republicans may see in Perry the kind of candidate they are looking for to challenge the president in the general election, someone who is tough, brash and unafraid to speak his mind — a Michele Bachmann with real executive governing experience.