Taking on the Texan
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas made a huge splash when he announced his candidacy for the GOP's presidential nomination on the day of the all-important Ames Straw Poll. Perry is now considered one of the top three candidates in the large GOP field, but he's a relatively unknown quantity to most voters outside Texas.
So permit me to fill you in with some facts.
Fact No. 1: Perry is a former Democrat. In fact, he backed Al Gore for president back in 1988. At that time, the tide was quickly shifting toward the GOP in the south. Always politically savvy, Perry knew he had to get behind the most conservative Democrat. (People used to think Al Gore was conservative, which tells you how far right this country has moved.) One year after Gore's loss in the Democratic primaries to Michael Dukakis, Perry switched political parties. He became a dyed-in-the-wool Reagan Republican and hasn't looked back.
Fact No. 2: Perry has never lost an election and has a reputation for beating his opponents savagely. Known in Texas as a take-no-prisoners candidate who can raise money by the bucketful, Perry is also a Christian conservative who can appeal to the tea party evangelists and social conservatives. He's a strong campaigner and understands how to connect with voters. Democrats as well as Republicans would be foolish to dismiss his candidacy as "Bush 2.0" simply because he is a Texas governor.
Fact No. 3: For Republicans looking for the most electable candidate to defeat Barack Obama next fall, Perry will be one of the leading contenders -- so long as he doesn't implode on the national stage. Perhaps most people don't know this, but Gov. Perry suffers from Donald Trump-like bluster and is prone to overbearing, dominating, rabble-rousing sound bites.
During his first days as a candidate for president, for instance, Perry called Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his monetary policy "kind of treasonous." These comments drew a lot of negative press and criticism from commentators on both sides of the political spectrum. Which leads to ...
Fact No. 4: Folks close to the last Republican president don't like Rick Perry. His remark about Bernanke -- who, after all, was appointed by President George W. Bush -- drew sharp criticism from former Bush strategist Karl Rove. "You don't accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country and being guilty of treason," Rove said on Fox News. He went on to call the remarks "unpresidential," sentiments that were echoed on Twitter by Tony Fratto, another Bush-administration alumnus. The bad blood between the Bush and Perry camps goes all the way back to Texas, and you can look forward to the Bush folks doing everything in their power to prevent Perry from getting the nomination.
Perhaps most important, Fact No. 5: Give Perry an inch and he'll take a mile. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked President Obama about Perry's comments on the Fed and the president responded with: "(When running for President) you've got to be a little more careful about what you say, but I'll cut him some slack. He's only been at it for a few days now." Obama let Perry off the hook. How did the governor repay the favor? He accused the president of giving him a "lecture" and continued to impugn the president's patriotism. So much for "slack."
The fact of the matter is that Perry is a good politician. Democrats can't afford to be complacent about any of the GOP candidates, Perry least of all, not because of pure partisanship, but because Democrats have to highlight the hypocrisy central to the GOP's ever-unfolding economic message.
During the height of the Great Recession, Perry was the first among the 50 state governors to accept federal funds. Perry was able to avoid making the kind of crushing public-sector layoffs that other governors have had to make because he retired 97 percent of his own state's overspending last year with federal stimulus money. If you look at the numbers, you can see that the so-called "Texas economic miracle" was borne on the back of maintaining public-sector jobs -- the same public sector jobs that the GOP is pushing to cut at the national and state level.
Perry's swagger and off-the-cuff remarks have worked in Texas, but I predict it will be hard to swallow nationally once Americans learn more about the man's record. Polls continue to indicate that, despite all its woes, voters want someone who will focus on the economy like a laser beam, can bring the country together, promote compromise when needed for the common good, and -- as another Texas governor once said -- be "unifier, not a divider."
In time, most Americans will come to learn that Rick Perry is a divider through and through. Y'all.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.