We like to think that Texas politics is as rough as it gets, but it really isn’t. This has been a one-party state since W. defeated Ann in 1994. Perry has had a lot of money spent against him, but he has never been in danger of losing a race since the light gov battle against John Sharp in 1998. Perry has had it so easy in the last decade that I wonder if it has dulled his political acumen. He has looked lost at times in the debates. Last night (Thursday) was one of those times. He couldn’t even deliver his prepackaged lines. He also says things that are patently false, such as his earlier claim that the poverty rate is the highest in history.
The fact is that Perry has gotten this far without ever having to deal with a talented opponent, other than Sharp. He refused to debate Bill White in the general election, on trumped-up grounds; he ducked out on the National Conference of Editorial Writers when they met in Dallas a couple of years ago, choosing to speak with local TV reporters instead; he wouldn’t talk to any newspaper editorial boards in Texas during his race with Bill White. The problem is, he hasn’t had any big-league experience, and it shows. Sooner or later, he was bound to pay a price for not engaging in the give and take of a major political campaign.
That price is getting to be mighty expensive. A case in point: the Merck money. When Bachmann attacked him, Perry said he couldn’t be bought for a mere $5K. That was a terrible answer, for two reasons. One is that it suggests that he might be bought for a greater sum. The second reason is that he had actually received $28,500. Did Perry lie? Not exactly. He just left the impression that he had gotten a minimal sum of money, when in fact it was greater by a factor of six. If this had been a race against, say, Bill White, no one would have paid any attention. But he is running for president, and the whole world is watching, and he gave an answer that was at best misleading and at worst flat wrong–and it didn’t take long for the Morning News’ Sommer Ingram to get the true numbers from a Texans for Public Justice report, which included another $377,000 from Merck to the Republican Governors Association, which Perry chaired.
During his long governorship, Perry has been able to stiff and dodge the media, avoid press conferences and editorial boards, and count on friendly opinions from his appointees on the Texas Supreme Court to shield his records from public scrutiny. The Court’s decision that Perry’s security records should not be made public is one of the worst in the recent history of this undistinguished body. He still owns state government and can still count on his agents on boards and commissions and groups like Empower Texas and TPPF to provide a chorus for his policies. But when he is on the national stage, his vulnerability is on display, and he looks a lot more like one of those rookies on the Astros roster masquerading as a big league ballplayer. He should have spent more time learning how to hit the curve ball in the Arizona Fall Instructional League.