Among the early highlights of Rick Perry's Texas-sized cannonball into the murky waters of the Republican presidential field were the Lone Star State governor's suggestion that global warming is a hoax, and his description of evolution as merely "a theory that's out there."
Compared to that stuff, I suppose questioning President Obama's patriotism and coming this close to charging Federal Reserve Chair (and Bush appointee) Ben Bernanke with treason were all in a day's vicious campaigning for the Texas governor.
It's not just Democrats and independents who have recoiled from this. Republicans from Karl Rove to John Cornyn to a number of congressmen are worried. The issue for them isn't Perry's good 'ol boy know-nothingism on a host of issues -- that's a plus in this Tea Party Invasion-of-the-Republican-body-snatchers season. It's just Perry's style that needs a bit of fine-tuning. As Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief house Deputy Whip (forget the whipping, isn't the title "chief deputy" oxymoronic -- even moronic?) put it, the threats and insults are "not something you want to lead with...."
To be sure, much of the Republican infighting doesn't even rise to the level of high school hijinks. Rove hates Perry because the Bushies hate their fellow Texan; Sarah Palin, clearly jealous of Bachmann, defended Perry's Bernanke threat as typical Texas "rascal type of rhetoric." A breath of fresh air came from an adult Republican, Bruce Bartlett, who held key positions in both the Reagan and "W" administrations. He told CNN, "Rick Perry is an idiot and I don't think anybody would disagree with that."
On the jobs front, let's give Mr. "keep government out of our lives" Perry credit where credit is due. Texas has added some 300,000 public sector jobs during his decade as governor. Now, you might say he's merely preparing his state for secession from the Union, but a government job is a government job.
Let's say Perry manages to rein in his most self-destructive impulses. His overall theme touting the "Texas Miracle" may not be such a hot idea either. A plethora of pesky statistics reveal that the state isn't so miraculous after all: its crappy schools, high unemployment -- 8.4 percent even with a ton of low-paying jobs -- and huge prison population suggest there's a new t-shirt slogan available: "Texas wrecksus."
Stats aside, Perry still ought to be wary of what we might call the "second coming syndrome." Last time a governor ran for president on the shoulders of his state's miraculousness, a bona fide "Massachusetts Miracle" did nothing to help Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, who managed to pull a crushing defeat from the jaws of a 17-point lead over a very weak George H. W. Bush. (Fun factoid: Ron Paul achieved a half-percent of the votes in that 1988 race. If he plays his cards Right, he could hit single figures before his 100th birthday.)
At this point, though, Perry's unique melding of swagger, ignorance and meanness has propelled him into a substantial lead in the polls. By contrast, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman's affirmation of his belief in evolution and his trust of scientists on global warming -- "Call me crazy," he Tweeted -- will turn out to be less a profile in courage than an act of self-immolation among Republican primary voters.
While Mitt Romney occupies the soulless, relatively sane wing in Republican circles, the competition between Perry and Michele Bachmann for first place in the fact-free sweepstakes is on. Washington Post reporters Aaron Blake and Chris Cilliza argue that since her victory in the Ames, Iowa straw poll, Bachmann has been losing her "buzz" to Perry. Apparently the Texan's cowboy persona -- problematic as it may turn out to be -- trumps Bachmann's strategy of substituting actual responses with her patented vacant stare accompanied by her mantra of the moment.
Asked repeatedly about her Stone-age views on gays and gay rights, The Minnesota congresswoman answers robotically, "I'm running for president of the United States....." When Warren Buffett wrote a column in the New York Times advocating fair taxation of the super-rich, she responded with this schoolyard "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" taunt: "I have a suggestion. Mr. Buffett, write a big check today."
With Bachmann having no chance to win the nomination, it's shaping up as a race to the bottom between Romney and Perry, fantasies of a deus ex machina notwithstanding. As onerous as the prospect of a Romney candidacy may be, the thought that the Texan with the cowboy problem might be our next president inspires the paraphrasing of an infamous George H.W. Bush slogan: "Read Our Lips: No New Texans."
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