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Texas Gunslingers

With Rick Perry the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Democrats have been eager to paint the Texas governor as the second coming of his gubernatorial predecessor, George W. Bush. That is an attractive option for Dem strategists — but it is very unlikely to work. An insightful Washington Post piece describes how Perry has for years positioned himself as the anti-Bush within American conservatism:

In his writings and speeches before he entered the race, Perry shared the view, widely held among conservatives, that Bush’s government spending habits in office were a betrayal of the GOP’s core fiscal principles. But Perry went further, dismissing “compassionate conservatism,” the central tenet of Bush’s domestic policy, as just more overreach by the federal government…

Perry presents GOP voters sharper outlines of the choice facing the party in 2012: how much to embrace the anti-government views of the tea party movement and how much to discard the brand of conservatism espoused by Bush, who presided over the last successful reinvention of the party at the presidential level…

A Perry victory would cement the Republican Party’s shift away from Bush’s approach to a more libertarian, anti-government GOP. This is cause for worry among some in the party, particularly those with ties to Bush.

Far from being the second coming of W (or the third, if we count Barack Obama’s Middle East policy), Perry is the most dangerous enemy the House of Bush can have. Rick Perry can only succeed by breaking up Bush World.  He must occupy the position that George W. Bush once did in Republican politics nationally; he must displace W and associates in Texas; and a successful Perry run would pretty much put paid to the presidential ambitions of Jeb Bush.

George W. Bush’s political strength comes from the unique place he held in Republican politics as the figure most acceptable to both the base and the party establishment.  In the current campaign, with the exception of Perry none of the other actual or potential contenders can play that role.  Palin, Paul and at least right now Michele Bachmann don’t appeal to the Establishment; Mitt Romney can’t ignite the base.

Perry would have a tougher time than Bush did at uniting the two constituencies because Perry is much closer to the small government wing of the party that the establishment dislikes.  But he could bridge the gap if he can convince the business world that he will manage a small government policy in a responsible and pro-business way.  This is something governors of Texas can do better than most.

A Perry nomination (which faces many hurdles) would displace the Bush coalition in Texas and national politics, and greatly complicate the chance of a Bush family ‘three-peat’ by First Brother Jeb.  Assuming a Perry victory in 2012, 2020 would be the first year in which Jeb Bush could make a run for the White House, and by then a whole new crop of GOP rivals will have emerged.

Sometimes clashing interests can be covered up by air kisses and photo ops.  That doesn’t serve Perry’s interest — which is to distance himself from W, not to bromance him. Attacking the Bush presidency (which Perry has already done in his book, repeatedly) helps Perry among independents, where the Bush brand just doesn’t work.  Attacking Bush as a spender endears Perry to the Tea Party wing of the primary electorate.  I would expect the attacks and the push backs to continue until the fate of Rick Perry’s presidential quest becomes clear — or until the Perry and Bush camps reach some kind of agreement.  At that point the air kissing can begin.

Perry is a fresh new face on the national scene.  He has not yet survived the trial by fire of press investigation and vetting that every national candidate (except, apparently, John Edwards) must pass.  And it is yet to be seen whether he can project his small government, states’ rights philosophy outside the South.  But given the open hostility already coming from Planet Bush, one thing nobody will mistake him for as this race goes forward is an avatar of W, and Democratic strategists who try to tie the two Texans together will face a rash of stories detailing the feud.

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  • Neville

    “…the trial by fire of press investigation and vetting that every national candidate (except, apparently, John Edwards) must pass” [before becoming the nominee].

    John Edwards and John F. Kennedy. And John Kerry. And Al Gore.

    Any pattern discernible here?

  • Gene

    So John Edwards is the ONLY presidential candidate that you can think of who is not subject to press investigation and vetting? Wow. I’ve got a hint for you: there’s another guy who shows up in the news pretty often these days …

  • Peter

    Neville, you seemed to have omitted B. Hussein Obama from those presidential candidates that the mainstream media refused to be vetted.

    I also think Comrade Hillary got a bit of a free ride, too.

    Any pattern discernible here? Yes, all the lefties get a free ride while Republicans, especially conservative ones, get smeared.

  • Stephen P

    Jeb Bush was both conservative and effective as governor, pioneering education policy and managing growth well. He still has quite enough respect from the GOP establishment and more populist right-wing commentators (National Review, talk radio, etc.) to put a serious dent in Perry’s campaign. (And there are MORE than enough holes in his record to torpedo his campaign that have gone unmentioned.) Jeb likes to work behind the scenes, of course, but of every leader in the GOP, he’s one of the most dangerous to have as an opponent.

  • Kris

    Rick Perry is the second coming of Bush. He’s also such a radical extremist that even the Bush camp is opposed to him. He is the most radical extremist evar! Unless he falls behind Bachman, or Palin, or anyone else not named Romney, in which case they become the radical-est extremists. And if, Gaea-forfend, any of those actually gets elected President, that will serve to show just how radically extreme the American people have become.

  • zane

    “He has not yet survived the trial by fire of press investigation and vetting that every national candidate (except apparently, John Edwards) must pass.”

    Yet, the failure press investigation and vetting was painfully absent when it came to Obama and now that failure has become legion with books, article, et al, written about that failure. Obama’s early writings, supporting the Green Party and 60’s anti-war protesters, his defense of affirmative action written to a fellow student at Harvard, his room mate who was a drug dealer (at the time they were room mates) from Pakistan, all ignored by the press as reporters decended on Wasilla, Alaska like a plague of locusts.

    Will Perry be vetted? You bet, with his transcripts from Texas A & M now leaked to a very unfriendly website. Will he be beat around the head, while the press remains solidly in the camp of the realization of their socialist dream instilled in them during journalism school? Yes. Will nasty ads, seeking any “hottie” who has had sex with Rick Perry surface? Already has. Only to be outed as a Ron Paul supporter.

    But to think that Rick Perry is the standard candidate who has not faced the hydra before is to mistake his record in a state that sees politics as a full body blood sport. Oh, he will be vetted, because Perry, unlike any other candidate now running on the GOP ticket, poses the greatest threat to the current resident in the White House. And the press knows it.

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