Uh oh, here we go. Rick Perry has been the GOP’s designated savior for barely 72 hours, and already he’s fouling the atmosphere with toxic innuendo. His knee-to-the groin incivility obviously plays well in the most right-wing precincts of the Lone Star State, but swing voters elsewhere may well become convinced that the nation would be better off if this guy stayed home.I didn’t intend to focus on Perry today, but he has made it impossible to do otherwise. Granted, his immediate goal is to stoke the conservatives who will dominate the early Republican primaries, and those angry folks guzzle incendiary rhetoric as if it were popcorn. Nevertheless, I’d bet that many members of the party establishment, who might have been willing to feel a tingle up the leg about Perry, are already discomfited with the way he has been running his mouth.Really, is this any way to woo swing voters and win a November election? Consider these dog whistles to the rabid right, listed in ascending order of toxicity:1. Perry said yesterday, “I think you want a president who is passionate about America – that’s in love with America.”The tired inneundo about Barack Obama – that he’s an alien unpatriotic Other who hates America and is plotting to bring it down – is still a right-wing staple, but that kind of talk doesn’t resonate with swing voters. They may be unhappy with Obama’s handling of the economy, and they may disagree with his policy priorities, but they’re not willing to caricature Obama in such scurrilously personal terms. 2. Perry said on Sunday night, “One of the reasons that I’m running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States.”Let’s translate that bloody red meat. Perry essentially said that Obama, being an alien unpatriotic Other, did not deserve to be respected by the military, and that he, Perry, as a swaggering ex-flyboy, would be far more worthy of such respect.(Perry undoubtedly did not intend to insult the troops, but he may have inadvertently done so. As Afghanistan war veteran Richard Allen Smith wrote yesterday of Perry, “What a clown….American troops are perfectly capable of disagreeing with the policies of a President and still holding respect for the office of Commander-in-Chief. For Rick Perry to suggest otherwise is nothing more than a below the belt smear against their professionalism.”) Again, the rabid right probably loves the charge, however fallacious it may be, that the soldiers don’t respect Obama. But it surely takes Texas-sized cajones to launch such innuendo at the guy who widened the Afghanistan war and ordered the hit on bin Laden. And I suspect that most swing voters will be similarly turned off.3. Expanding on his military thesis, Perry said yesterday, “If you polled the military, the active duty and veterans, and said ‘Would you rather have a president of the United States that never served a day in the military, or someone who is a veteran?’ They’ve going to say, I would venture, that they would like to have a veteran. The president had the opportunity to serve his country. I’m sure at some time he made the decision that isn’t what he wanted to do.”A quick history lesson for Perry: The two greatest war leaders of the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, never served in the military. Nor did Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Nor did Abraham Lincoln, aside from his 60 days in an Illinois militia. Nor did Ronald Reagan, unless you count the instructional films he made in L.A. for an Army movie unit. Perry’s innuendo notwithstanding, there is no facile correlation between military service and commander-in-chief success.4. And now, the rhetorical prizewinner. Referring to Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, Perry said last night, “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.”That kind of talk may play well with the government-haters, but let us pause, in the spirit of sanity, and ponder this fact:Treason is a capital offense punishable by death.
Yes, folks, the Republican party has devolved to the point where its newly-anointed frontrunner will hurl the charge of treason at a guy who was appointed by George W. Bush. Indeed, on Twitter yesterday, former Bush deputy press secretary Tony Fratto assailed Perry’s remarks as “inappropriate and unpresidential.” And Fratto was seconded on Fox News this morning by a furious Karl Rove, who said: “You don’t accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country. Of being guilty of treason. And suggesting that we treat him pretty ugly in Texas. You know, that is not, again, a presidential statement.”
Moreover, Rove warned on Fox News yesterday: “You don’t want these candidates moving so right in the Republican primary that it becomes impossible for them to win the general election, because it will become a self-defeating message in the primary. People want to win. They don’t want somebody who goes so far to the extremes of either party that they lack a chance to carry a victory off in November.”Granted, Rove historically has not been a big Perry fan. But when even the GOP’s reigning master of innuendo sees the need to issue such a warning – and to subsequently talk up (yet again) the possibility of Paul Ryan and Chris Christie candidacies – it’s a sign that the Republican establishment may well judge Perry as too incendiary for the swing voters. But the establishment won’t have the final say. It’s the grassroots conservatives who will ultimately decide whether to nominate a guy who would set new low standards for toxicity on the stump. They’re not thinking about swing vcters. They’re far more focused on fueling their ire.——-I’m now on Twitter, @dickpolman1, for those who want to follow.
BTW, today is the 34th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. Back in 2002, on the 25th anniversary, I took a break from politics to cover the festivities in Memphis. Here’s my report.