Doing the Kay Bailey Shuffle


Texas’ clash of Republican titans is shaping up more like a scuffle between nimrods. While Gov. Rick Perry repeatedly empties chambers into his boot, going all Nixon on us after a fevered spring of high-wire political ascendance, his apparent primary opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, seems hell-bent on reminding Texans what a weird character she can be in her own right. Yesterday, Hutchison repeated a script that threatens to become a running joke in Texas politics. (More than it already has, I mean.) In July, the senator said she would resign from the Senate for her gubernatorial run in October or November. On Dallas’ KRLD Radio yesterday — and it’s October, mind you — she wouldn’t even get that specific. Maybe, the implication was, she just won’t resign at all. “I haven’t been able to set that deadline,” Hutchison told conservative host Mark Davis. She must, you see, hang on long enough to derail all those socialistic schemes the president has been cooking up. As she said on Tuesday, “Every day in Washington, some new bad thing is coming up.” And, “I want to stay and fight with every bone in my body against the government takeover of health care.” Which means, “I don’t feel that I have a choice.” Back in July, somehow, she did feel like she could have a choice. Or, rather, make a choice, which is the crux of this business for the bizarre Hutchison campaign. If she hadn’t gotten warmed up and then shied away from challenging Perry before, Hutchison might be able to make a halfway reasonable case to some voters that there’s urgent business in Washington that she simply must stay and vote against. But with her history, and her constant waffling all this year, she is rounding the corner into flakehood.

The early press after Hutchison’s radio chat looked deservedly bad: “Hutchison Hedges On Leaving Senate,” “Hutchison unsure on timing of Senate resignation,” and “Hutchison hints at pushing back Senate resignation” — these headlines surely sent a happy jolt through the beleagured Perry campaign. They could hardly have invented a better distraction from their own candidate’s far more substantive troubles.With her waffling, Hutchison has stepped on the two clear rationales she’s offered for her candidacy: Saving the Texas GOP from long-term doom by broadening its base, and saving it from the more immediately embarrassing shenanigans of Perry. From her so-called announcement tour forward, she’s pointed to Republican losses in the state legislature, hinted at the Democrat-friendly demographic trends everyone knows, and talked — vaguely — about Texas Republicans’ need for such concepts as “inclusion” and a “bigger tent.” Deployed properly, it’s a message with potential. It invites a debate that many Republicans know must happen in the party — and that many realize they’ve put off for just about as long as they can. The Texas GOP can certainly still win over enough Latinos to keep competitive, and conceivably remain a majority party into the next decade. But it certainly can’t without a makeover, especially when it comes to immigration issues. Hutchison seems to know that. But who knows that she knows it? Hutchison’s other message, that she’d be a steadier and more responsible governor than Perry, is also being stifled by the resignation saga. With Perry having lately done just about everything possible to make himself look not only foolish but corrupt to boot, his best hope for re-election might lie in the cluelessness/ineptitude/egomania (pick one, or two) of his opponent.