Paint Creek Native Runs for President

Rick Perry has come a long way from his roots as a Democratic state representative from West Texas to the right-wing Republican governor in Austin. Don't bet that he won't finish his tour in Washington

By Lou Dubose

I avoid predictions. But here’s one. By mid-September, the Republican presidential primary will be a two-man race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry will eclipse Michele Bachmann, and Republicans will have a clear choice between Perry and Mitt Romney. Perry has several advantages over Bachmann.

He appeals to the same evangelical extremists who have embraced her in the absence of any other true believer except the deeply flawed Newt Gingrich (Mormons don’t count).

Despite Bachmann’s appeal, these fundamentalists have problems with a woman on top. James Dobson, for example, built a career teaching his followers that a husband must dominate his wife, while she must serve as his Christian helpmate. The Promise Keeper movement, another example, has come and gone. But it instilled in two generations of Christian men the “biblical” tenet that a man is the master of his family. These doctrinally misogynist evangelical voters will move into Perry’s camp, costing Bachmann an important part of her base.

Perry has executive experience that Congresswoman Bachmann lacks. He is the longest serving governor of the second-most-populous state in the nation. He has used his  tenure, and the power of gubernatorial appointment, to turn a constitutionally weak position into a powerful executive office. And he’s not afraid to use the political power he has created.

A Texas legislator recently told me that he has seen the box in which Perry keeps Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s testicles under lock and key.

And unlike Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry is not Tim Pawlenty.

Perry is also a relentless campaigner. In 1989, he was a telegenic Democratic legislator, drawn into a Texas Republican Party built by Karl Rove, with the promise of a slot on a statewide ticket. In 1990, Perry upset incumbent Democratic Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower. Perry has had only one close call since then. In 1998, he was barely elected lieutenant governor, in a race critical to the program that Karl Rove had put in place for George W. Bush, who needed a Republican to complete his term were he to win the presidential election. Perry is also a bold and innovative campaigner — or his political consultant Dave Carney is.

In 2006, Carney asked Yale political scientist Donald Green, a behaviorist whose work has transformed electoral politics, to conduct experiments inside Perry’s reelection campaign.

Green is the intellectual godfather of an experimental politics model that has rewritten the book on election campaigns. His methods were first adopted by liberals, including the Analyst Institute, which does “evidence-based research in engaging voters on the progressive side.”

Carney invited Green and several other political scientists into the campaign, where they tested different methods of persuading and turning out voters.

The race was Perry’s to lose, as he faced a Democrat and two independents, including professional Texan Kinky Friedman. For Carney, the campaign was an expanded field test to prepare for a primary challenge from US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2010.

Perry won the 2006 race with a 39% plurality. Then, applying what he had learned from the political behaviorists he brought into his campaign in 2006, he easily defeated Hutchison, who had entered the race with a 20-point lead in the polls. Perry went on to soundly defeat Houston Mayor Bill White, who was well-funded and ran a smart campaign, in the general election. And Perry did this after giving the finger to the country-club Republicans, who ten years earlier made him a viable candidate for statewide office, then concluded it was time for him step aside to make way for Hutchison.

Bush’s political team, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, both advised Hutchison. George Bush the Elder endorsed her, as did his secretary of state and political strategist James Baker.

They turned on Perry not only because he began, in 2007, to criticize George W. Bush in public. Perry isn’t what they are, conventional, establishment Republicans. Perry’s open break with the country club (and Cosmos Club) Republicans, at a moment when most Republican primary voters are Washington-hating, states-rights extremists, works to his advantage. He enters the race as a natural for the Christian Right, the Tea Partiers, and Tenth-Amendment fanatics.

Rick Perry will run a formidable campaign, and has a good chance of securing his party’s nomination. But he has a record, which we will be examining in this space and in the pages of the Washington Spectator in months to come.

For the moment, I’ll close with a paragraph from a Joe Nocera column in the New York Times.

“Has any president in American history left behind as much lasting damage as George W. Bush? In addition to two unfinished wars, he also set us on the path to our current financial mess. The Bush tax cuts, which turned a surplus into a growing deficit, have been disastrous.

“As James Fallows pointed out in a prescient 2005 article in The Atlantic predicting a meltdown, they reduced tax revenue ”to its lowest level as a share of the economy in the modern era.”

(In its downgrade report, S&P suggested that it did not believe that Congress would let the cuts expire at the end of 2012, as they’re supposed to.)

Then, in 2003, Bush pushed through prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients. David M. Walker, then the comptroller general, described 2003 as ‘the most reckless fiscal year in the history of the Republic,’ adding some $13 trillion in future entitlement costs.” To answer the question with which Nocera begins,

I would say: “No, but beware another Republican governor from Texas.”

Lou Dubose is editor of The Washington Spectator and wrote this for Previously, he was editor of The Texas Observer.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2011

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