Perry un­likely to fade into a Western sun­set

Draws ri­vals into po­lit­i­cal show­downs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

Whether he runs or not, Texas Gov. Rick Perry com­mands plenty of at­ten­tion on the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial stage, and he knows it.

He de­manded a face-to-face meet­ing in Texas with Pres­i­dent Obama to talk about the Mex­ico-U.S. bor­der cri­sis. He also kept de­mand­ing, un­til the re­luc­tant pres­i­dent gave him one, a tele­vised, pho­tographed, widely re­ported face-to-face meet­ing.

Barely tak­ing time to catch his breath, Mr. Perry fol­lowed up with a head­li­ne­gen­er­at­ing at­tack on Sen. Rand Paul’s stance on Iraq. As the long­est con­tin­u­ously serv­ing gover­nor in U.S. his­tory, Mr. Perry felt com­fort­able be­rat­ing a U.S. se­na­tor con­sid­ered to be a first-tier White House hope­ful.

For a year now, Mr. Perry has been in full re­me­dial mode for his cam­paign-killing gaffes in the 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, in­clud­ing when he couldn’t re­mem­ber a Cab­i­net of­fice he in­tended to zero out if he be­came pres­i­dent.

He has been grab­bing the ini­tia­tive and hold­ing on to it from his bal­ly­hooed visit to Is­rael last year to his per­for­mance in March at the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, where many ac­tivists pro­claimed he gave one of the best speeches of the three­day event.

Now he is tak­ing on one of his po­ten­tial com­peti­tors in 2016 by jab­bing Mr. Paul for be­ing what the Texas gover­nor called an “iso­la­tion­ist” out­side the party tra­di­tion of Ron­ald Rea­gan and Dwight D. Eisen­hower be­cause of Mr. Paul’s op­po­si­tion to fur­ther U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion in Iraq.

Mr. Perry took to the op-ed page of The Wash­ing­ton Post on Fri­day to deliver a sting­ing at­tack on Mr. Paul by name, call­ing it “dis­heart­en­ing to hear fel­low Repub­li­cans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), sug­gest that our na­tion should ig­nore what’s hap­pen­ing in Iraq.”

In his re­sponse, pub­lished Mon­day in Politico un­der the head­line “Rick Perry is Dead Wrong,” Mr. Paul took an un­usu­ally per­sonal tack, say­ing of the Texan that “ap­par­ently his new glasses haven’t al­tered his per­cep­tion of the world, or al­lowed him to see it any more clearly.”

“With 60,000 for­eign chil­dren stream­ing across the Texas bor­der, I am sur­prised Gover­nor Perry has ap­par­ently still found time to mis­char­ac­ter­ize and at­tack my for­eign pol­icy,” Mr. Paul wrote.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers think Mr. Perry is wily for tar­get­ing Mr. Paul be­cause he went af­ter a leg­is­la­tor and not a fel­low gu­ber­na­to­rial prospect such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Wis­con­sin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Jeb Bush, a for­mer gover­nor with plenty of clout among the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment and ma­jor donors.

What­ever ca­sual ob­servers see in this Texan, it’s clear he has no plans when his gover­nor’s ten­ure ends this year to fade into the sun­set like a white-hat cow­boy in a spaghetti Western.

Like his pre­de­ces­sor in the Austin gu­ber­na­to­rial man­sion, Ge­orge W. Bush, Mr. Perry strikes people as a touchy-feely guy who projects no airs about him­self. He’s just “Rick” and he’s just as likely to throw an arm around a vis­i­tor’s neck for a quick wrestling ges­ture as he is to bend slightly at the waist in greet­ing a fe­male vis­i­tor.

He can do ei­ther with­out look­ing like a politi­cian show­ing off — all the more to his ad­van­tage be­cause he is, of course, a politi­cian show­ing off.

His at­tack on Mr. Paul for be­ing skep­ti­cal about in­ter­ven­tion­ism in for­eign pol­icy may not sit as well with a Repub­li­can elec­torate that is less hawk­ish than it used to be.

In­deed, Mr. Paul noted that wide­spread pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion to in­volve­ment in Iraq means that “it’s time we fi­nally re­tire that pe­jo­ra­tive” term “iso­la­tion­ist.”

For all his per­sonal charm, Mr. Perry may be at odds with an im­por­tant seg­ment of his base: young evan­gel­i­cals who may dis­like his sup­port of a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment against same-sex mar­riage or his com­par­i­son — which he re­cently re­it­er­ated — of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity to al­co­holism.

He also alien­ated some “rule of law” con­ser­va­tives by sup­port­ing in-state tu­ition breaks for the chil­dren of il­le­gal im­mi­grants who slipped across the U.S. bor­der. But that po­si­tion is shared by a sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of self-de­scribed con­ser­va­tives who tend to open up on the sub­ject only to trusted friends and ac­quain­tances.

Where Mr. Perry has clear com­mon ground with his party’s base is his de­mand that Mr. Obama dis­patch the Na­tional Guard to the bor­der to end the in­va­sion of un­ac­com­pa­nied Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren, as well as the lieu­tenants of the for­eign crime car­tels.

On im­mi­gra­tion, he has shown you can talk tough with­out sound­ing mean-spir­ited. He has re­peated pub­licly his ac­cu­sa­tion that the chil­dren flood­ing the bor­der are told to claim to Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties that they are flee­ing for their lives — es­cap­ing the mur­der­ous drug wars in El Sal­vador and other Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries.

That bold ac­cu­sa­tion seems to res­onate with Repub­li­cans, in­de­pen­dents and many Democrats who sus­pect col­lu­sion be­tween the U.S. govern­ment and Latin Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties as the only plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for the sud­den in­un­da­tion of the south­ern bor­der by bus­loads of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren.

Mr. Perry casts him­self as the most ag­gres­sive and suc­cess­ful gover­nor in per­son­ally per­suad­ing cor­po­rate lead­ers in the U.S. and around the world to re­lo­cate part or all of their op­er­a­tions to Texas.

Un­known to most people out­side his state, he is some­thing of a cul­ture maven.

“There is no ques­tion that 10 to 15 years ago folks might have had a point in say­ing we were cul­tur­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally a back­wa­ter. Al Gore once said the air is brown here,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Well, to­day, we have won that bat­tle, both in per­cep­tion and sub­stance. The cul­tural arts here have ex­ploded. From zoos, to mu­sic, to mu­se­ums, to the­ater. In Hous­ton, we have more the­ater seats than any other city in Amer­ica ex­cept New York.”

Mr. Perry’s strong re­li­gious faith has been a big part of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, but for him now, the econ­omy is pre-em­i­nent in the lives of Amer­i­cans, whether re­li­gious or sec­u­lar.

“Amer­i­cans have to de­cide what is the most im­por­tant to them: so­cial is­sues, for­eign pol­icy, na­tional se­cu­rity and other is­sues. But all those is­sues — many of them should be the purview of states, not the federal govern­ment,” he said in an in­ter­view be­fore em­bark­ing for the Mid­dle East last sum­mer.

“You can’t have any of these if you do not take ap­pro­pri­ate care of taxes, reg­u­la­tion, le­gal poli­cies, so that there can be the rev­enues for those de­sires,” he said.

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