The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rick Perry was winning the PR war. Then he went and did this.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivers a speech Aug. 8  at the 2014 RedState Gathering in Fort Worth, Tex. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has done just about everything right from a public relations perspective ever since he was indicted on two felony counts. Until now.

Here's what Perry said in Midland, Tex., on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press:

Indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that he believes taxpayers should have picked up his legal tab but opted to use campaign funds "to keep from having folks grouse about it."

Suggesting that he is entitled to taxpayer funding for the costs of the all-star legal team defending him, at a price one would reasonably assume is high, is not exactly going to win Perry much sympathy. It fuels Democratic attacks that his legal woes have become everybody else's problem.

Perry and his team smartly realized that billing taxpayers for his legal fees could trigger a backlash. So his office announced last week that his campaign account -- which is flush with cash -- would cover the charges.

So why not just leave it at that? Why not say that is the right thing to do instead of saying you did it simply to shut people up?

It's a bid of a head-scratcher -- especially considering how well Perry's responded to his charges.

He's convincingly pointed to both Democratic and Republican skepticism about his charges as evidence they are shaky. He flashed his bravado by smiling during his mug shot and defiantly going out for ice cream right after he was booked, winning him plaudits from conservative activists in faraway New Hampshire.

Perry's fight is happening on two tracks. One is legal. That one's up to his lawyers.

The other track is political. That's up to him. Perry is thinking seriously about running for president again, and can't afford to be viewed as ethically or legally damaged.

As governor, Perry may think he's entitled to state-funded legal support. As a politician, he probably shouldn't press that argument.