If Rick Perry Were (on) King of the Hill

New Bill White ad hits the governor, criticizes high-school dropout rate


Friday night is almost here! And you know what that means—sitting around the house, watching TV. (Come on, Royal Pains is back on USA.)

This weekend, though, I might direct your viewing to the latest Bill White ad, released yesterday. I’ve already watched it about five times. It turns out the White team has some fight in ’em after all.

The first 30 seconds are genius. A cartoon Rick Perry tells reporters that those concerned about the dropout rate “try to tear down the state of Texas.” Standing in front of a “Governor for Life” podium, the Perry caricature’s eyes flit back and forth—not unlike Bill White’s eyes in Perry’s attack ads. As people say the dropout rate could be much higher, cartoon Perry just says “It ain’t. I’m stayin’.” And then “Hey look! Ya’ll see my new car?” Ha. (Please tell me you remember the Perry campaign’s NASCAR car, driven by Bobby Labonte!)

Magic. Absolute magic. Of course then this weird music chimes in, as though we’re now entering an ad for a doctor’s office, and a nice lady’s voice extolls the virtues of Bill White and evils of Rick Perry. A bit of a boring transition, but whatever—there’s still an extra sketch of Perry in front a “Re-Election Bidness” podium.

This is the first White ad that doesn’t rely on a narrative of “Aw shucks, my parents taught Sunday school and I like education.” Instead it goes on the offensive and pins the dropout problem on Perry. The dropout rate is a nebulous thing anyways, and in Texas, it’s been particularly hard to nail down. It’s not entirely Perry’s fault that we don’t have a definite number—the state tracks dropouts a few different ways—but in politics, it hardly matters. After all, Perry has tried to link White with almost every negative incident that’s occurred in the city of Houston. 

The ad dismisses the idea that criticizing the state of education or just general problems in Texas equates with “tearing down the state.” As the Texas Tribune notes, the exchange in the ad isn’t that different from a moment in the GOP primary debates. To win, White needs to find ways to slam Perry’s policies that can’t be dismissed with a simple “You’re tearing down the state.” Addressing the point directly is effective, and mocking Perry in the process is doubly so.

If the White campaign can create a narrative around Perry as only interested in power, not policy, it will help protect White against the inevitable onslaught of attack ads. It’s actually stealing from the Perry playbook—after the governor has painted Kay Bailey Hutchison as a creature of Washington, she had trouble making her attacks stick. She’d already been framed as the queen of bailouts and her legitimacy seemed in question. If White successfully frames Perry as “Governor for Life,” Perry’s attacks on White may lose their legs: He’s only interested in getting elected, the logic goes, so of course he constantly attacks.

The whole thing comes at a good time for White. Perry has come under fire for scandals around a environmental regulation broken by the Observer’s very own Forrest Wilder and the feds may take over some parts of environmental monitoring. That hasn’t stopped the Perry campaign from releasing their own ad, accusing Bill White of supporting cap and trade. (White’s team deny he’s ever supported the policy.) Perry’s ad isn’t quite as effective since it only links White to the Obama people through a memo. It shows footage of White saying he’s spoken about climate change, but nothing with White talking about cap and trade. Still, I would note the Perry people still have the best music, this time choosing to go with Twisted Sister.

Still, White’s folks needed to land a punch. They did. And thank the Lord this punch doesn’t include White family photos.

In fact, aside from a couple of pictures of his beaming face, White is barely in the ad. That’s probably for the best. We can focus all our attention on Perry’s weird witch fingers at 0:22.

Have a good weekend all.