Understanding The Rick Perry Machine
On September 29, 2011, 5:32 PM by Aine Farrell
Rick Perry: why does the Left insist on underestimating the Texas wunderkind?
In twenty-seven years, Rick Perry has never lost an election.
His opponents have described him as lucky, but Perry makes his own luck. He campaigns relentlessly, surrounds himself with exceptional talent, and he keeps his mouth shut. He is the perfect candidate.
Perry the man is likable and loyal. His posse is composed of his betters: men and women of privilege who admire his moxie and inexhaustible sense of humor. Many of them were once his foes and Perry’s ability to charm and disarm his enemies makes him one of the most successful politicians in America today. Kinky Friedman wants his ashes scattered in the Governor’s good hair when he dies.
He may not be popular — recent polls in Texas show Governor Perry losing to Obama or barely beating him, and most of the GOP kingmakers have rallied to revile him — but he is incredibly effective. Karl Rove, the architect of Perry’s swing to the right in 1990, has demonstrated a very odd tone-deafness by aligning himself with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his former Prince Charming, despite the fact that Christie has said he will not run.
Rove’s miscalculation is the same one that his enemies on the left make when it comes to Perry: they look at him and see a rube. It’s an easy mistake to make, as Perry has inadvertently cultivated an aura of shallow and callow. He blew up a toilet in his dorm at Texas A&M with an M-80. He plays with his balls in public so much that he earned the nickname “the Crotch”. He was a cheerleader. But everyone who bought the narrative of Perry as a lightweight has finished with their ass in their hands and a mountain of campaign debt. And they usually end up in his corner explaining to everybody else why Rick Perry is the last great hope for a strong America.
This is not to say that Perry is deep, he just doesn’t have the time to waste thinking things through. He has a brain trust that he trusts, and once they deliver an opinion, he usually runs with it. However, he can and will swim against the current, both within his trusted circles and the Republican norm. As Governor of Texas, he issued an executive order in February 2011 mandating that teenage girls in Texas receive the HPV vaccine. He was close to a woman dying of cervical cancer, Heather Burcham, who had been a nanny to a Houston area developer and longtime Perry supporter, Craig Wilson. As she neared the end of her life, she convinced the Governor that he had a role to play in preventing the deaths of thousands of women by mandating one of the biggest state-wide public health efforts since the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.
Michele Bachmann learned how dangerous it is to take Perry on. While she may have won points during the Tea Party Express debate for opposing his stance on vaccinating pubescent girls against HPV, the calculated leaks from his side have buried her in a pile of “Bachmann wants your daughter dead” rhetoric.
Perry 1, Bachmann 0.
And herein lies quite a tale. Perry crushes his competition. Only a fool would go up against him, not that there aren’t plenty of fools. The GOP upperclassmen have been pushing Romney as the more electable candidate, which is true in theory, but Obama and Romney are practically interchangeable on policy and Obama has a much more polished delivery. Romney doesn’t campaign well. He is awkward and out of touch and couldn’t crack a joke to save his life. If Romney has ever had a strong emotion, he’s managed to hide it from public view and while that may appeal to the pundits, it’s useless for rallying the base. In addition, Perry doesn’t give a shit what the talking heads think of him. He only cares about the small percentage of people who actually bother to vote. That’s a very attractive trait to the huge number of extreme conservatives who are cycling between rage and fear. It makes them feel powerful.
Perry 1, Romney 0.
The real question is how well Perry could do against Obama. To Obama supporters, the idea that Perry might win the presidency is about as difficult to comprehend as the belief in UFOs and jackalopes. His positions are so extreme and his “Texas Miracle” is so cruel that he appears almost insane. He passed a law mandating that women seeking abortions had to be shown pictures of the fetus and listen to its heartbeat which has since been struck by a judge. Luckily for Texan women, doctors are still required to perform a sonogram by inserting an electric array transvaginal transducer through the cervix, with no exemption for rape or incest.
His state has some of worst poverty rates in the country and Dickensian levels of public assistance. The EPA estimates about 1,000 Texans die each year from pollution while countless others are made ill. And he called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. What progressives and moderates fail to understand is that none of this matters. What matters is that Perry has Dave Carney and Obama doesn’t.
Carney is probably the most skillful political operative in the country and Perry is now his favorite project. The results have been spectacular. A long time member of the Governor’s team, Carney presided over a 10 point rise in three months of Perry’s favorability rating against Obama from 34% to 44%. In 2002, Perry defeated Tony Sanchez by almost 60% and with barely one-third of the spending. He is efficient and ruthless: “Our theory is if someone has a better idea, we steal it. The point of the campaign is to win, not relive the great hoorah. We adapt to putting resources, time and effort into those tactics that are successful in reaching voters and getting them to be more supportive and to turn out.”
Perry 1, Obama 0.
The real race will come down to voter turnout. Obama won the White House because he got his people to the polls. Young voters, minorities, the poor, the LGBT community – every category of 10 percenters in fractured America participated in record numbers. The challenge he faces in 2012 is whether he can get them off the couch again or if they will simply curl up in a ball and whimper. The GOP understands this and have been concentrating on ginning up their base. In North Carolina, a referendum to amend the constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman has been added to the 2012 ballot, despite the fact that the state has already banned gay marriage.
It’s a wedge issue and it will drive conservatives to show up in a state that Obama won by just .4%. Twenty-three other states have approved referendums on all of the major issues that push the right values voters to the polls: abortion, term limits, property tax, public funding of religious institutions, gay rights, immigration, prayer, banning affirmative action, guns, and health care mandates. Pennsylvania is exploring joining Maine and Nebraska in using gerrymandered congressional districts over the popular vote to determine how to award their electoral vote.
If Perry and Carney can ride this all the way to the general election, they have a real shot at the White House and if there’s one thing the boy from Paint Creek knows, it’s how to stay in the saddle.
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