Tuesday, September 13, 2011


The Politico folks and I must have been watching two different debates last night, because I sure didn't see anything that warranted this kind of reassessment of Rick Perry's front-runner status. Or maybe Politico's reporters didn't watch the debate, and just waited for Mitt Romney's campaign to send them the spin:

Rick Perry's pain is Mitt Romney's gain

Mitt Romney's path to the Republican nomination became clearer Monday night -- and it had little to do with his attacks on Rick Perry over Social Security.

Instead it was the fire Perry took from the right at the CNN-Tea Party Express debate that suddenly seemed more threatening to the Texas governor's chances than Romney.

Perry was sharply criticized by Michele Bachmann for his support of vaccinating girls against HPV and whether he did so as a favor to an aide-turned-lobbyist and a pharmaceutical firm; he was hit by Rick Santorum for his opposition to a border fence and backing of Texas legislation to give the children of illegal immigrants in-state college tuition; and he was dinged by Ron Paul over whether taxes have gone up in Texas.

Taken together, few issues resonate as much with conservative base at the moment as culture, cronyism, American identity and fiscal purity. And Perry was forced on the defensive over each of them in Tampa....

I said just after the debate that immigration is an area where Perry might be vulnerable -- but the more I think about it, the more I think that it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to attack this guy, who hits so many right-wing pleasure centers, from his Texas swagger to his crowd-pleasing remarks about how he wants to "make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can."

I think the exchange on taxes with Ron Paul was a wash -- Paul said Perry raised them, Perry said Perry lowered them. Some of Perry's immigration stances brought him boos, but he attacks Obama and the federal government just the way a Republican is supposed to, so he may be seen as having the requisite amount of hate.


Now, the HPV thing: I do think Perry is vulnerable on that, but vulnerable on cronyism? In the eyes of GOP voters? I don't think so.

Wingnuts and teabaggers love big business. You could argue that wingnuts and teabaggers love political corruption and pay-to-play as well -- they hate campaign finance reform and were ecstatic when the Citizens United ruling came down.

Michele Bachmann was smart last night to play the social-conservatism angle and the anti-big-government, pro-"liberty" angle while criticizing Perry on his decision to mandate HPV vaccination. But from there she needed to find a liberal villain. If Perry consulted with someone from Planned Parenthood, or enriched a CEO who's a guest of honor at Obama speeches, that would be "cronyism" in GOP voters' eyes. But old-fashioned quid-pro-quo politics? No problem!

A guy who worked as an aide to a God-fearin', job-creatin', gun-totin' Texas governor and then went on to a career in bidness -- that's the villain of this piece? You've got to do better than that.

Yeah, I know -- "cronyism" is Sarah Palin's line of attack, too, as the Politico story goes on to tell us:

Palin not only criticized Perry by name, but echoed Bachmann's attack on the Texan.

"That someone, as Michele Bachmann pointed out, was Governor Perry's former chief of staff," said Palin of the lobbyist who advocated for the passage of the HPV vaccination.

Palin added: "That's crony capitalism. That's part of the problem that we have in this country is that people are afraid, even in our own party, to call one another out on that. True reform and fighting the corruption and fighting the crony capitalism is a tough thing to do within your own party."

The mainstream press thinks this must be a powerful line of attack because the extremely popular Sarah Palin is using it. But Palin isn't extremely popular anymore. And talking this way isn't a big part of how she became (temporarily) extremely popular.

In order for "cronyism" to upset right-wingers, there have to be liberals involved, or least establishmentarians, or, at the very least, what appears to be massive amounts of (ick!) government spending, which is liberal by definition. If Perry had created a government program to distribute HPV vaccine, that would be repellent to the wingers. But this? I don't think so -- not presented this way. Drop the "cronyism" talk, then maybe you'll have something. But probably not much.