The rationale for a presidential run by Texas Gov. Rick Perry was that the Republican Party needed a tough conservative to bring all strands of the party together. The thinking went that Mitt Romney was too Main Street, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minnesota) was too Tea Party. That rationale evaporated in only a few days when by dint of ego or ignorance Perry not only used unseemly language to describe the Fed chairman’s policy on the economy but then defended it. He told CNN: “I am just as passionate about the issue, and we stand by what we said.” We do, do we? So the Fed chair is “treasonous,” and what of it, he says.
In the past, Perry has had to apologize for his nasty language. But not this time.
A Republican insider on Capitol Hill (no Bush affiliation and no preference for any campaign) disgustedly told me, “The guy who threatened secession is now calling someone else treasonous? Hello, pot, it’s me, kettle.” (The reference was to Perry’s remark, which some took to be humorous, about Texas’s willingness to secede if the federal government kept up with the power grabs.) Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, sugar-coated Perry’s put-down of the Fed chairman: “I might have put it a little differently, but listen, Gov. Perry is just new to the race.” In other words, he hasn’t learned to behave on the national stage.
The Texas Tribune, which knows a thing or two about Perry, runs this headline: “Hot-Headed Talk Shifts Perry Off Jobs Focus.” The report notes that Perry then doubled down on his rhetoric:
He was also asked about his statement earlier in the day that the U.S. military deserved a commander-in-chief it could respect. After graduating from Texas A&M University, Perry served as a U.S. Air Force pilot flying C-130 planes.
“I think people who have had the same experiences connect with individuals of like experiences. That’s human nature,” he told reporters. “My instinct is if you polled the military, both the active duty and veteran, and said, ‘Would you rather have a president of the United Sates that never served a day in the military or someone who is a veteran?’ they’re gonna say, I would venture, that they would like to have a veteran, someone who has been in their shoes, someone who has faced some of things that they faced. That’s just a fact of life … The president had the opportunity to serve his country, I’m sure, at some time and he made the decision that wasn’t what he wanted to do.”
Another reporter asked him about another earlier remark in which he said he would be a president who is “passionate about America — that’s in love with America.” Was he suggesting, the reporter asked, that Obama isn’t? “I dunno,” he said, shrugging, “you need to ask him.” Pressed, Perry said, “I’m saying, you’re a good reporter, go ask him.”
Tuesday, his spokesman Ray Sullivan, was asked whether the governor’s rhetoric was overly harsh. “I think you’ll just have to listen to what the governor says every day,” Sullivan said. “The message is certainly going to evolve and be responsive to the news of the day. Just keep watching.”
If this is par for the course (as it has been for Perry’s career), why is he going to sell any better in a general election contest than Bachmann? Actually, in comparison to Perry, Bachmann has been rather statesmanlike in the campaign, directing her barbs at the president’s policies and not at the president. (Ironically, her rhetoric is calm while her positions are extreme; Perry is the opposite.)
But what about the rest of the Republican electorate? Sean Trende has an interesting look at the early primary states and the ideology of Republicans in those states. He concludes, “If all the moderates and liberals vote for the same candidate in January/February, all the ‘somewhat conservative’ voters vote for the same candidate, and all of the ‘very conservative’ voters cast ballots for the same candidate, the ‘very conservative’ candidate would get roughly 30 percent of the delegates, while the ‘moderate/liberal’ candidate would get 35% of the delegates.”
In other words, it’s hard to win the nomination (especially if there are multiple candidates fighting for the same voters) with only the red-meat voters. That’s before we even get to the general election, when, of course, Republicans will wind up in John McCain territory or worse if they alienate centrists.