Perry for President: Conjuring the Apocalypse


If you’re in the mood to curl up and read a Moby-Dick-sized take on Gov. Rick Perry’s blessedly remote prospects of becoming a serious presidential contender in 2012—and really, who isn’t?—your prayers have been answered. February’s Texas Monthly takes a temporary breather from its stock of Top 10 Lone Star Cliche compilations to bring you nearly every conceivable thought about the subject from house pundit Paul Burka. The notion that Perry has national aspirations isn’t novel. Among many others, yours truly has mentioned it a few times. In fairness, I was speculating about Perry joining his political soulmate, Sarah Palin, as No. 2 on a GOP nightmare ticket in 2012. Burka ups the ante, laying out a just-barely-plausible scenario in which Perry could take the top spot on the ticket. Making the idea of Perry for President just barely plausible is a strain, for sure—and maybe that’s why it takes Burka so godawful long to do it. As Dr. Johnson said of Paradise Lost, “none ever wished it longer than it is.” So in the event that you want to spare yourself the whole shebang, here’s the Cliffs Notes with a few critical comments: Perry is an underrated politician. True enough. But when Burka tries to prove that Perry is ready for national prime-time by comparing his political skills favorably to Kay Bailey Hutchison’s, he’s surely committing one of the major fallacies. People, nobody in national politics looks bad on the stump compared with Hutchison. Perry does have charisma to burn among his people. I’ve witnessed it at the tea parties and anti-abortion rallies. But when he’s faced with his foes—the media, say, or smarter opponents in a debate—he can be downright lousy. Mike Huckabee, who can sound populist and intelligent when necessary, would crush him in a debate like a flea. And can you picture Perry on Meet the Press? Perry has “exquisite” political timing and can ride the Tea Party wave in 2012. Well, I would not have used the word “exquisite.” I’d lean more toward “desperate.” I think of Perry as the Madonna of Texas politics: so engulfingly frantic to win (as she’s frantic to be famous) that his whole being is focused on doing whatever it’ll take, and sniffing the popular winds accurately enough to do it. He got a timely whiff of anti-Obama frenzy early in 2009 and unquestionably made the most of it, as Burka notes. But he’d have stiff competition for Tea Party votes from Palin and Huckabee, who can’t stop calling them “patriots” and has a weekly FOXNews platform from which to do it.

Perry has a national following—really! Now, this is silly. Perry has made some appearances on FOX, been praised by Matt Drudge and The Wall Street Journal and Rush Limbaugh (and Burka seemingly documents every last instance of this). But he doesn’t register a blip on any GOP preference polls for 2012, and his greatest notoriety—stemming from the tea parties and his anti-stimulus nonsense—has actually come in national liberal circles. I’d be willing to wager that more MSNBC viewers than FOX viewers would recognize him. And Rachel Maddow devotees, I think we can all agree, are not exactly his natural constituency. But I do think there’s a good chance that the Republican nominee in 2012 will emerge from obscurity. Which is where Perry exists on the national scene. Being Texan would help. I think not. The national memory is short indeed, but George W. Bush hasn’t been entirely erased from it. Another right-wing ideologue from the state America loves to hate? I don’t see it, even among Republicans. Burka claims that it matters that Texas’ sheer size might matter, noting that “Texas will send more delegates to the Republican National Convention than any other state, and the more the Republican party dominates a state—legislative and congressional majorities, for example, or voting Republican for president—the more delegates a state gets. Texas qualifies for all the extra delegates that are available.” (You see how he goes on.) But presidential nominees are chosen in primaries, not at nominating conventions. Unless this is 1924 and I’ve gotten lost somehow. He’ll have to beat Bill White first. Here, Burka is spot on: The former Houston mayor is going to be Perry’s first formidable Democratic foe next November, assuming both men make it through their primary challenges as expected. A Perry victory would be the smartest bet, especially if there’s a strong anti-Obama tide. But Perry will have a tussle on his hands—and it’s not the fight he originally expected, against Hutchison. One thing Burka doesn’t mention (which is surprising, since he mentions everything else) is that a Perry victory wouldn’t give him much juice nationally. In a good Republican year across the board, the re-election of a GOP governor in Texas wouldn’t exactly make turn heads. So there: That’s the sum of it, in a fraction of the length. Except for Burka’s final line, which is probably the best of this whole epic exercise in speculative punditry. After outlining the dominoes that would have to fall for Perry to become the 45th president, Burka concludes: “Heaven help us all.” Amen to that.