Not even a holiday break could stop the Republicans from offering us a new episode of their galvanizing campaign miniseries, Game of Thrones.When last we looked, the party elite was still hunting desperately for a miracle savior with the gravitas to smite Mitt the Hair. Perchance would it be Mitch the Short, the modestly sized lord of Indiana? Alas, he withdrew himself from the field of battle. Well then, would it be Chris the Rotund, ruler of Jersey? Alas, he too claims to lack the belly fire that is required for a sustained siege of the House of Barack. So who might this savior be? Surely there is a white knight somewhere in the provinces who…but hark, I hear something…Rick Perry from the House of Swagger was asked by reporters on Friday whether he had any interest in staging a late bid for the ’12 presidential nomination, and replied: “I’m going to think about it.”He’s going to think about it! Well, that certainly tilted the political world on its axis. The longest serving governor in Texas history also told The Daily Beast that a late entrant would have no problem getting traction in the Republican race: “This is a very different time in America. Different ways to run campaigns. There are those out there who will say that there’s plenty of time to decide who’s going to carry our banner. And I think that’s probably correct.”But seriously, folks. Rick Perry?Granted, he has a great jaw (telegenic). He packs a .380 handgun when he goes jogging (catnip for gun lovers and Second Amendment purists). His legislature this year passed a law that forces women seeking abortions to undergo fetal sonograms (catnip for the religious right). He balanced the state budget this year on the backs of the neediest Texas citizens, and at the expense of education (catnip for the tea-partyers). He can quickly get his hands on a lot of right-wing Texas money. And he’s also a gifted mimic who can vividly imitate his gubernatorial predecessor, George W. Bush (OK, I doubt that’s catnip for anybody, but that talent alone makes him more interesting than Tim Pawlenty).If Perry actually did commit to a Republican race – he’s thinking about it! – the aforementioned traits might serve him well during the primary season. One California legislator has already been quoted as saying that Perry is – you knew this was coming – “potentially the next Ronald Reagan.”But would Perry be a viable general election candidate? That’s another story.Here’s a nugget of his thinking, from a recent book he wrote or had written: He believes that Social Security is “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal.”
Read that one again. I would love to see him campaign in senior-heaving swing states, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, with that little millstone around his neck. The same goes for his 2010 remark, on Fox News, that Social Security is merely “a Ponzi scheme” – a demonstrably false equivalence, because (a) Social Security is obligated to pay benefits, unlike the crooks who run Ponzi schemes; and (b) payroll taxpayers, unlike those who participate in Ponzi schemes, know exactly where their money is going. The last Republican to assail Social Security in this fashion was Barry Goldwater in 1964, and, if memory serves, he was buried in a landslide.Worse yet is Perry’s hypocrisy. Since 2009 he has been ranting about the “oppressive” federal government, about Washington’s “interference with the affairs of our state.” Tea-partying conservatives have long been gnawing on that red meat, and they especially loved it when Perry suggested in ’09 that oppressed Texans might even want to consider seceding from America. (Actually, they can’t. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1869 that when Texas joined the union, “she entered into an indissoluble relation.” But Perry doesn’t out much stock in the high court anyway; in his book, he denounced the judges as “Grand Ayatollahs.”) Yet even as Perry complains about the “oppressive” socialists in Washington, he relentlessly chases after the oppressor’s federal money.Perry has typically paid $30,000 a month to a couple of Washington lobbying firms; it’s their job to bring that Washington largess to the Lone Star State. And they get the job done – law enforcement money, farmer drought assistance money, homeland security money, juvenile crime money, you name it. A libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, said a few years ago that “Perry and the Texas state government are aggressive scavengers of federal grant dollars.” And when Perry doesn’t get all the Washington money he seeks, he whines about it. Last month, the federal oppressor approved 25 grants to help Texas pay for its program to fight wildfires. But Perry wanted more than he got, and when he didn’t get it, he got mad: “I am dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much needed assistance they deserve.”I’m not sure how his well-documented lust for oppressor money squares with the dire warning, voiced in his book, about how the oppressor is embarked upon “a slow march to socialize this country.” It would be a kick to hear him try to explain this disconnect in a presidential debate.
Granted, he can boast of having created 700,000 jobs during the past decade, in his low-regulation state. But he would also have to explain why Texas tops the nation in the percentage of people with no health coverage, and in toxic emissions. And why it nearly tops the nation in high school dropouts.
It might also be fascinating to see whether America would embrace another Texan, in the wake of the bloody and costly disasters perpetrated by Bush in Iraq and Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam. So I say, bring on the Perry buzz, and if he ultimately takes a pass like so many others, the panicked party elite can always run to John Bolton, Bush’s outspoken U.N. ambassador. Bolton is threatening to run for president, too. He said so last Friday (“If I run, I run to win”). Bolton has also said that his work on Barry Goldwater’s ’64 landslide loss was his “formative political experience,” which sounds ideal for the tea-partying primary voters. Besides, we haven’t had a mustachioed president since William Howard Taft left office 98 years ago. Mount up, John, the game has just begun.