The Washington Post

Rick Perry's biggest challenges

Aug 15, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently announced his candidacy for president, but he still has a long road ahead as he competes with Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Chat with Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, about what Perry's biggest challenges, and his strengths, are when it comes to grabbing the GOP Presidential nomination. Ask Jillson about Perry's political background as the governor of Texas.

Hi, I am Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU in Dallas, ready to answer any questions you might have a bout Rick Perry. Let's have some fun.

The Dems or progressives or whoever are really going to have to delve deep and publicize the more "evangelical" leanings of Perry's platform. Rachel Maddow had a great piece where she broke down the participants at Perry's prayer rally and exposed some of their more bizarre rants (there was something about a goddess having intercourse with the emperor of Japan and that caused all of their problems.) Perry frightens me because he looks almost Bush-lite but his policies are far more sinister.

Perry managed to survive "the Response" event quite well. Most people watching Rachel Maddow are unlikely to be looking close at Perry anyway. The big potential problem for Perry was that participants in the event might hfave said something outrageous that would play in an endless loop and lots of potential voters might have seen. That did not happen, so not much damage from that event.

Perry has a great first sentence about creating jobs, but is the rest of his platform good enough to beat Obama?

A good first sentence won't do it once the intensive focus of a national campaign falls fully on Perry. Jobs in Texas have been strong for many years, but median family income has always been below the national average, poverty and lack of health insurance both are high. We will see whether voters find the job growth attractive or the low wages and poverty too worrisome.

How can Perry get rid of the fact that when people think of him they think of Bush?

It will be difficult but not impossible. In fact, Perry has made the point that he is a more determined conservative than Bush and would not have run up the deficits or passed the prescription drug bill for example. We will see how that plays.

What impact do you think Perry's ties to the energy industry as well as his perceived unwillingness to work cooperatively with opposing views will have on his national image?

Perry is a business-friendly cnservative from Texas so no one should be surprised that he has a close relationship with the energy industry. But many people will be concerned about his divisiveness and wonder whether he would be able to work across the aisle (if that is possible for anyone these days) or, more importantly, whether he would even try. If he had a Republican Congress he probably would make little effort to work with Democrats.

Is it true, or does it just strike appearances, that Southerners prefer their own? The Democrats couldn't elect a a non-Southerner for almost half a century. Does Perry enter the race with effectively a base of one-third of the party, since Bachmann and Romney aren't native there?

Everybody perfers their own when their own is a plausible choice. Romney is expected to win New Hampshire because of his time in Massachusetts. Bachmann just won the straw poll because she was born in Iowa and lives now in neighboring Minnesota. But, yes, Perry should run strong in South Carolina and likely in the rest of the South assuming his candidacy makes it through the early months. I think Perry will shunt Bachmann aside over the coming months and likely will emerge as the key alternative to Romney.

What's this about the story that he burned down the Texas Governor's Mansion?

Someone did, but the guy caught on camera did not look at all like our governor.

Is it true Perry "is like Dubya, only Dumber"?

No, never lost an election in thirty years and now governor of Texas for ten years. He is shrewd, if perhaps not brilliant, and a very good campaigner. It would be a mistake to misunderestimate him. The key will be to make him explain his Texas record in paragraphs rather than bumper sticker phrases.

Are things like the prayer rally a code? Nixon used "Law and Order" as a code against further expansion of civil rights. Is this Christian stuff a code for reversing re-defined gender roles or something like that?

Yes, the colorful phrase is "dog whistle politics." The Response was an attempt to appeal explicitly to the religious right and social conservatives in general. In fact, the gender roles question was answered by Michelle Bachmann in the recent debate. Though she took a long time to get her thoughts in order, her answer was exactly right from the conservative christain persepctive and I am sure Perry would have agreed with it.

What are the chinks in Rick Perry's armor?

Perry was quite straightforward in his South Carolina announcement speech. He said he would do for the country what he did for Texas; build policy around small government, low taxes, limited regulation, and tort reform to spur economci growth and job creation. The key line in the speech was something like "I will work hard everyday to make Washington DC inconsequential in your life." Opponents will have to go right at that, explaining to the country what that means and asking -- is that what you want?

So, how do Texas Republicans feel about Perry? Do Texans, in general, think he's another George W. Bush?

Texans in general, even Republicans, have always been somewhat ambivalent about Perry. His poll number are rarely great and recent polls showed that several of the Republican candidates were not that well liked in their own states. I think most Texans see Perry as somewhat more conservative and more rigid than Bush. 

A lot of people are questioning what should be done about illegal immigration in the face of the current employment situation. Is this an issue on which Republican candidates have to tell the voters one thing and their donors another?

That's what Perry has always done. Unlike California and, more recently, Arizona, Texas has always been more welcoming to Hispanics. Many in the Texas business community want the cheap and willing labor and since Texas is a low service state the social policy costs are low. Perry pushed a "sanctuary cities" bill in the 2011 Texas Legislature to allow police to question people they stop about their immigration status but he did not push hard for its passage. 

Texas may have the biggest carbon footprint per capita of any state in the union, and maybe the most permissive policies on air and water pollution. Do Texans appreciate that? Do they believe that prayers alone are a responsible solution to climate change, cancer, and learning disabilities in Texas

Texas does have the biggest carbon footprint of any state. The answers to your two questions are no and no.

Perry would say that Texas processes about a quarter of the nation's petroleum into gasoline and the chemical plants along the Houston ship channel provide lots of needed chemicals. What he would not say is that Texas fights the EPA tooth and nail not to incur the cost of reducing that carbon footprint. 

What is his relationship with Latinos in Texas? How would you expect the Latino vote to fall for Perry in a national election?

Good question. Hispanics tend to vote 2 ot 1 Democrat both nationally and in Texas. Perry would not win the Hispanic vote nationally were he the Republican nominee, but he might do better among Texas Hispanics on the idea that he may have problems but we're all Texans.

What role are defense spending cuts likely to play in this year's Republican primaries? Are they part of the "we know we have to cut some stuff;" or is there a sort of aura about defense that exempts it from conservative budgeting debate?

Virtually no Republican candidate is going to support defense cuts. Not because they do not know that they have to be part of the solution, but because it plays into the longtime narrative that Democrats are weak on defense. Think about how long the Republicans have worked to train voters that Democrats will raise your taxes and risk our defense. 

How do you anticipate he will appeal to middle-class voters in places like Columbus, Ohio, suburban Phildelphia, Denver, etc.? In other words, voters who have very possibly voted for both parties for president over the last 10-20 years.

That's the big question. Perry has been pitch perfect for Texas politics as I detailed above. He has been successful in Texas' small government environment by saying I will not raise your taxes. He has not had to have a positive, problem-solving agenda in education, health care, social services, environmental protection, because, he would say, we would have to raise taxes to do those things. To balance the Texas budget for the coming biennium, Perry declined to rasie revenues or to tap into a $8 billion rainy day fund, instead cutting $4 billion out of public schools. The moderate suburban voters in places like you mentioned care about education, health care, and the like so they will be up for grabs.

A lot will depend upon whether Obama appears to be a viable alternative next November, or whether people are off him and ready for a change.

Won't his biggest challenge be wooing Independent and cross-over voters, should he gain the Republican Presidential nomination? Independents and Democrats are likely to be very turned-off by his religious zeal and hard-right politics.

See the previous response. Perry's tactical problem is that he has to stay hard right to take the tea party and social conservatve votes from Bachmann and then defeat Romney as the true conservative. He will move some to the center even as he confronts Romney, but whether he can then tack enough to the center to win a majority of moderates and independents remains to be seen.

If Perry is perceived as unwilling to work across the aisle, will anyone care? It seems no one is very interested in this anymore. After watching how Obama was thoroughly crushed in his attempt to work with Republicans, I'm not interested in anyone who will pander to the other side.

If Obama wins a second term, it may well be because the tea party wing of the House forbids a balanced deal, as it did a couple weeks ago, again later this year when the super committee reports. Polls suggest many Americans thought the tea party blocked important action and if the did it again it could cost many of the freshmen tea partiers in November 2010. Republican might then be willing to be more cooperative.

On the other hand, if the tea party grows in 2012 and Republican take the Senate, we are probably looking at a President Perry and Republican control of the Congress.

Does Rick Perry have ANY foreign policy experience? Has he even traveled internationally very much (Sarah Palin had very little travel when she was nominated for VP, which led to her seeming clueless in that area)?

No foreign policy experiene. He touts the fact that he flew C-140s around the world when he was in the Air Force. He has, though, as governor travelled more than either Palin or Bush did before they emerged on the national scene.

Does Rick's ever move?

His body man carries the spray.

This morning on NPR "Morning Edition" while I was admittedly still half-asleep, I heard a news report on Perry's candidacy and, so help me, in my stupor I'd have sworn it was George W. Bush. In a Pavlovia reflex, I started to reach to turn off my clock-radio, before I realize it was someone with the same accent. Do you think Bush has made it impossible for ANY Republican who talks like him to be popular enough to win the Presidency for some time to come?

You are not alone in this reaction - to the voice I mean. As to whether the nation is ready for more good Texas leadership, politics is always about compared to what. When Bush left office no one would have imagined that another Texas governor would be welcomed into a presidential race this soon -- but many believe now that Obama and the Democrats have opened the door and it is hard to tell who will walk through.

Has he signed the Norquist Pledge? Does he think that closing Tax Loopholes on Corporations is equivalent to Raising Taxes?

Rick Perry is very close, vacationing together close, to Grover Norquist. I assume that for Perry any closing of loopholes would have to be accompanied by reduction in rates so that no additional revenues went to government.

How do non-religious Republicans feel about strongly-religious Republican candidates? For how many of them (especially pro-choicers) is religion a deal-breaker?

The parties have sorted themselves pretty well by now. This means that a pro-choice Republican has had plenty of time to decide that considering all the issues they are more a Republican than not. Generally, partisan identifiers stick with their party about 90 percent of the time.

That only counts as foreign experience if you LAND in a foreign nation, then get out and learn about the country and its people!!! Fly-over doesn't count.

Remember, we're campaigning here so the sort of truth, facts, and reason you are appealing to have little place.


Thanks all, I have enjoyed it. 

In This Chat
Cal Jillson
One of the nation’s foremost political experts, Cal Jillson regularly provides journalists thoughtful insight on U.S. and Texas politics. A professor of political science, he is also the author of The American Dream, and a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.

Asked by The Calgary Harold about Republican insiders' fear of Sarah Palin's popularity among grassroots conservatives and Tea Party activists, Jillson said, "I think Republicans feel that Obama is eminently beatable in 2012, but the establishment wing of the party just does not believe that Palin can do it. What is at the bottom of this is that Democrats salivate at the prospect of Palin as the Republican nominee in 2012."
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