What National Reporters Aren’t Asking Rick Perry (Yet)

Rick Perry’s week-long national coming out party is well underway—and so far the governor seems to be working some magic.While he has yet to actually toss his hat (or better yet, a lock of his hair) into the ring, Perry has said he’s considering the idea, and he’s giving every sign he’s serious. From Los Angeles, where Saturday he addressed an anti-abortion rally, to New York, where he spoke last night at a Republican dinner, Perry has managed to package his usual stump speech into some nice national clothing. It wasn’t much of a leap. He’s spent much of the last two years railing against the federal government in defense of states’ rights, and it seems now he’s ready for primetime. 

Actually maybe not. Perry may have brought down the house with his New York speech, but according to Politico, afterwards, Perry and the Texas First Lady flew out the kitchen exit, avoiding the waiting press gaggle.

In fact since becoming a buzzworthy could-be candidate, Perry’s only major interview was with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, who’s not exactly Woodward or Bernstein. “Methinks they think you’re the guy,” Cavuto mused Tuesday when Perry came on the show. For the most part, Cavuto let Perry extoll the virtues of the “Texas model”—low taxes and pro-business approaches. When Cavuto asked how Perry had lured Carl’s Jr. restaurants to Texas, the governor flashed a trademark smile. “They love the smell of freedom,” he explained. Public policy via olfaction! Perry even got in a couple plugs for his book, Fed Up! before heading over to Glenn Beck’s stage for an ostensibly unscripted moment. “How many jobs did you create?” Beck asked as he finished drawing a chalk portrait of Perry. “Since June 2009, about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas,” Perry responded—before walking off set.

The job-creation theme has been big as media outlets have focused on Perry’s potential strengths as a candidate. “In recent months, Mr. Perry has been talking up his success in Texas adding jobs in the face of a tough economy,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Many activists in the Republican Party have pined for a dark-horse candidate to enter the field, which they believe is lackluster in order to give the GOP a jolt of enthusiasm,” wrote D.C. insider’s paper The Hill. Bloomberg News began their piece on Perry with the headline: “Texas Governor Calls for Halt of Economic Ruin.” Glad someone did.

Nowhere was a mention of the unprecedented fiscal crisis still plaguing the state that Perry oversees. While legislative efforts have spilled into a special session to determine just how to make controversial cuts to education, the governor seems far removed from the mess. There are the allegations that he’s used the Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund as slush funds for pet projects. And few stories mentioned Perry’s controversial role planning “The Response,” a Christian prayer gathering he’s organized in partnership with the vehemently anti-gay American Family Association, which has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even when it comes to job creation, this is hardly a flawless record; the San Francisco Chronicle was one of the only places to mention that most of the jobs created in Texas are low wage.

It’s certainly understandable why the press isn’t kicking the tires a little harder. After all, Perry isn’t officially in the race. But, as he told Cavuto, he may decide very late to join in the fun—which will hardly leave the press much time to investigate Perry’s record. 

And it will fall to the national presscorps to step up the scrutiny; the GOP candidates will hardly be in a place to question Perry. After all, his ultra-conservative bona fides make Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney look like raging moderates—hardly the image they want to present. Poking the Texas governor might heighten the comparison between rightwing and center, which could easily just benefit Perry.

If Perry decides to wait and jump in at the last minute, he may find the pathway to a GOP nomination fraught with little scrutiny. That is unless the presscorps start staking out the kitchen exits.

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Published at 10:45 am CST