Texas Governor Rick Perry has recently taken to appearing around the country at political events and in television interviews wearing stylish dark-rimmed eyeglasses. And, while, according to some observers, his new specs make him look smarter, he continues to display a profound case of myopia.
Gov. Perry appeared at several Republican functions in Iowa recently and is heading to more such events in South Carolina in December. He's doing all things he would do if he were considering another presidential run in 2016. But, while he might be looking down the road to the next national election, he seems to be overlooking what just happened on November 5 in New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama elections.
Gov. Chris Christie, reviled and dismissed by the Republican conservative base for not spitting on President Barack Obama and billions of dollars in emergency federal assistance for New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last year, just won re-election by 20 percentage points in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
In Virginia, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican and Tea Party darling, lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who had never before held public office. Exit polls indicate that 50 percent of all Virginia voters thought Cuccinelli was just too far to the right. For example, his championing of legislation to restrict a woman's right to a legal abortion under any circumstances helped him lose the vote of Virginia women 51 - 42 percent, and single women by 43 percentage points.
In a special election for a Congressional seat in Alabama's 1st District, establishment Republican Bradley Byrne defeated Tea Party candidate Dean Young 52.5 percent - 47.5 percent. Young likened himself to Texas Senator Ted Cruz while Byrne talked about going to Washington to get things done.
The Tea Party style of 'compromise is a dirty word' conservatism may still win elections in some congressional districts, especially those redrawn by Republican-dominated state legislatures following the 2010 Census. It may even win elections in some bright red states, like Texas. But Rick Perry isn't thinking about running for president of Texas. He sees himself leading the whole country.
Part of his challenge may be that more and more Americans are clearly getting tired of the Tea Party's inflexible ideology and the government dysfunction it promotes and celebrates. More and more Americans are expressing an interest in seeing people who were elected to reflect all the divergent political philosophies of more than 300-million Americans work together in a national government, sort of like the Founding Fathers had in mind. The party is starting to break up and the tea is getting a little bitter.
Rick Perry may want to take another look at the political environment through his new glasses. He may need to decide if he's going to run as the Rick Perry who still believes state governments should make all important decisions, like his cutting $4 billion from public schools. Or is he going to run as the Rick Perry who has relied on the federal government for more than half the funding for emergencies in his state, even requesting more FEMA funds to fight wildfires, while he was cutting state funding for volunteer fire departments? That's the Rick Perry who said, "It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency."
Is he going to run as the Rick Perry who believes is smaller, less-intrusive government, or the Rick Perry who called successive special legislative sessions to restrict women's Constitutional rights to make their own decisions about reproductive health?
Will he run as the Rick Perry whose gubernatorial website claims that "Texas has consistently been at the forefront in innovative efforts to control medical costs, utilizing market-based solutions to improve the quality of treatments and widen access to care for all Texans," or the Rick Perry who has refused to expand Medicaid in Texas and help 1.5 million additional low income people gain access to basic health care, and turned down $79 billion in federal funding over the next ten years to pay for it?
If the governor's new glasses help him see far down the road, that's great. But if he focuses only on what's way down the road, he may stumble over things that are a lot closer. Oops.