As Texas Governor Rick Perry's path to the nomination begins to look more likely, some conservatives have started to wonder if he can beat Obama, and if he does, whether he will be a good president. Criticisms point to his temperament, ideology, and religiosity.
Perry is the establishment candidate who appeals to the insurgent Tea Party Movement. His ability to appeal to both Old Guard and Tea Party Republicans makes him both a strong candidate and an enigma. As pundits try to understand and explain Perry to a curious public, he has been both too liberal and too conservative, conventional and radical. He has been described as a brilliant politician, even as Politico asks the question, “is Rick Perry dumb?”
Peggy Noonan, a conservative columnist with The Wall Street Journal and former speech writer for President Reagan, believes that Democratic attacks on Rick Perry, assuming he wins the nomination, would be similar to those made against Ronald Reagan in 1980.
“Mr. Carter, at the end of the campaign, tried to paint Mr. Reagan as an angry cowboy with crazy ideas. You don't want that guy with his finger on the button,” Noonan wrote in an editorial for The Wall Street Journal. “It was a serious charge. People would listen, and consider whether there seemed to be truth in it. Then Mr. Reagan would walk out on the TV screen and give a speech or an interview and people would see this benign and serious person and think, 'He isn't radical. That's not what radical looks like.'”
Noonan worries, however, if Perry would not be able to counter the charge that he is a radical as well as Reagan: “In 2012, the Republican candidate will be called either mean or dumb, or both. Certainly, his politics will be called mean. And if the candidate is Rick Perry, people will look at him and think: Hmmm, is there something to the charge?”
Conservative columnist David Brooks suggests, in an editorial for The New York Times, that Perry is not really as grounded in conservative principles as his stump speeches suggest. “The man who sounds so right wing today was the Texas chairman of the Al Gore for President campaign in 1988. The man who now vows to appoint only anti-abortion officials to relevant administration jobs endorsed Rudy Giuliani four short years ago,” Brooks wrote.
Additionally, while Tea Partiers often talk about “reversing course” on “the way Washington works,” Perry's career as the nation's longest serving governor looks, in many ways, like that of a typical politician, or at least the public perception of what a typical politician looks like. Perry has been described as a mastermind at working the levers of power.
Just last week, news reports began to shine a spotlight on Perry's “pay-to-play” methods in Texas. Two of Perry's biggest campaign donors received lucrative government contracts. According to a report by Texans for Public Justice, a government watchdog organization, of the 3,995 government appointees tapped by Perry while he has been governor, his campaign collected $17,115,865 from 921 of them or their spouses.
For a candidate who says he wants to make government “inconsequential” to the lives of Americans, he has not been shy about using government power to benefit individuals and businesses that have donated to his campaign.
The Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technology Fund give grants to companies that do research and create jobs in Texas. According to an analysis by The New York Times, over 1 in 4 of the companies receiving grants made donations to Perry's campaign since 2001, or the Republican Governor's Association since 2008, when Perry became its chairman.
Evidence such as this led Brooks to charge that Perry “is unwavering in his commitment to the government-cash nexus.”
Some conservatives are also uncomfortable with Perry's bombastic public religiosity. “Even for a Christian and a conservative like myself, Rick Perry’s brand of god-and-country politics goes too far,” writes Timothy Dalrymple, the Evangelical Portal Managing Editor for Patheos.com.
“When church and state grow intertwined, the state always wins, and the church is distorted. This is because the state appeals to the flesh, appeals to our natural inclinations toward power, fortune and fame. The church asks you to put these inclinations aside. When the two enmesh, and the state becomes the means for the church’s ends, then eventually you find religious leaders so thoroughly imbricated in the pursuit of power, fortune and fame that they cannot find their way out. ... This is not healthy for the church, and it’s not healthy for the state, which always needs a prophetic critique,” writes Dalrymple.
The most recent Gallup poll shows Perry leading all candidates with 25 percent of the vote, and leading by 21 points among Tea Party supporters.