Perry’s Presidential Non-Campaign

The governor's national shrink-the-government act is humming along. But the will you/won't you questions keep coming.


Rick Perry’s national “Not a candidate—really!” tour is going great guns, as you have surely heard. Fortunately for the rest of America, the governor not only took his government-shrinking message along with him, he also took his trademark syntax. It’s kept Texas journalists entertained, and Texas voters puzzled, for years. Of course, national journalists probably just look at Perry’s quotes, shrug and say, “Well, hey, he’s from Texas.”

On Real Clear Politics, I found this sterling example in a story called “Perry: Bush ‘Missed Some Opportunities’.” He’s speaking to Washington reporters about Saint Ronald Reagan: “I talk about him in my speeches, but I also talk about other presidents,” Perry said. “We have had some great individuals to serve as presidents of the United States. John Kennedy gets talked about from a smaller government, tax cutting president.”

Where to begin? The second sentence (“had some great individuals to serve…”) is ungrammatical and awkward, but not altogether unclear. The third one, though! It attains a standard of almost dazzling incomprehensibility.

Lord knows, Perry would hardly be the first Texan to propel himself ungrammatically into national prominence. I don’t know much about what Vice President “Cactus” Jack Garner sounded like, but I know from all-too-fresh memory that the Bushes were not syntactical wunderkinds. After the Georges, it surprises people everywhere else in the country when a Texan materializes who can speak English fluently. (This can be used to your advantage when you’re on the road, I’m finding—you get to be the civilized Texan. A marvel, a mystery, and treated like one, with respectful curiosity.) And with memories of W.’s verbal ininquities still reasonably fresh, Perry sounds damn near lucid most of the time.

But the long and short of it is: Tripping over his words won’t stop Rick Perry from doing his damndest to propel himself to some kind of national office. On Monday’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, we got a taste of what Perry’s peddling on his I’m Not Running campaign (and, incidentally, book tour for Fed Up!):

PERRY: If you want to know when Washington really got off the track—the 16th amendment, giving them the opportunity to take your money with a personal income tax. […]

STEWART: But let me just back that up a second, because there are… very few people, I think, who would go back to a pre-1920s United States, because that movement didn’t arise out of nothing. Children worked in factories. Women weren’t allowed to vote.

PERRY: I get that —

STEWART: You may get it, but that ain’t nothing.

PERRY: But the fact is, then you had the Great Depression, and again—government program after government program—that, looking back on it now, didn’t work. Big government really has really not helped this country from the standpoint of economically.

The governor hit on just about every Tea Party talking point he could in the short span of a TV interview—the evils of Woodrow Wilson, even. Take a listen if you missed it somehow.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the strategy at work here: Cozy up to those Tea Partiers while the cozying is good. If Sarah Palin doesn’t run, Perry wants to be their guy. Even if she does, he wants to be in the picture in case she implodes. Rick Perry, oddly enough, would be the “moderate” Tea Party option in that scenario. (Did I just type the words “moderate tea party option? Heaven help us all.)

Perry has been talking a blue streak about Texas’ job creation and its wonderfully “fair and balanced” regulatory climate—”fair,” of course, being the code word for “non-existent.” He hasn’t had to field a lot of in-depth questions about Texas’ estimated $21-$25 billion budget deficit for the next biennium. He gets a lot of this, instead:

VIERA: “So you don’t see any scenario where the party may come to you and say, ‘We need you in 2012,’ and you would accept?”

PERRY: “I don’t see that scenario—at all.”

VIERA: “But if they did?”

PERRY: “At all.”

VIERA: “You’re saying, like, no, off the table?”

PERRY: “I am not running for the presidency of the United States.”

To believe him, you’d also have to believe that … insert your punchline here. You’d have to be pretty dimwitted, is what I’m trying to say. If things line up right, Perry will surely try to follow W.’s Austin-to-Washington trajectory. At least then it’ll be the whole damn county’s fault if he wins.