I never thought I would feel sorry for Rick Perry, but I couldn’t help myself. His performance at the debate tonight was humiliating beyond belief. For those who weren’t watching, Perry launched into a discussion of the three agencies that he wanted to cut; he named two, and then a blank look came across his face, and he put his forefinger to his temple, searching desperately for the missing link. No luck. He couldn’t remember. Long silence. Someone on the stage–I think it was Ron Paul–offered “EPA” helpfully. It was painful to watch. After the debate was over, communications director Ray Sullivan tried to ‘splain it away. He looked like he had one hell of a bellyache. To his credit, Perry manned up and said, “I stepped in it tonight.” The reason I don’t feel sorry for Perry is that he and his pals have clamped an ideological stranglehold on state government for ten years. They forced $15 billion in cuts upon the Legislature and then bragged about it all over Iowa. They foisted toll roads upon us instead of raising the gasoline tax; they foisted tuition deregulation on parents and just about put higher ed out of reach for the middle class; they passed a business tax that didn’t work and created a structural deficit in the state budget, and they did nothing to fix it; they refused to let the Legislature use the Rainy Day Fund to avoid crippling cuts; they gave Texas politics a new concept called the “owner’s box,” which was reserved for Perry’s biggest donors; they twisted arms and threatened lawmakers and vetoed bills by the dozens and got lobbyists fired whom they didn’t like; they passed a terrible windstorm bill that made it difficult for coastal property owners to be compensated for hurricane damages; they did projects that enriched billionaires like Red McCombs and Harold Simmons and who knows how many others. Yes, he brought jobs to the state, but there was always a whiff of scandal about the Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund. And there was always the question of whether some of those tax dollars found their way back to the Perry political coffers in the form of campaign contributions. Perry has enough money to keep going through the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida primaries. But to what end? He hasn’t moved the needle in the polls for weeks. He has lost the tea party constituency over immigration. He hasn’t been able to raise money on Wall Street. He doesn’t really have any constituency right now. You don’t see legislators going off to Iowa or New Hampshire to assist the campaign. He doesn’t have a lot of friends in the Capitol, a situation that is of his own making. They can stretch this out to South Carolina and Florida, but is there any point in doing so?
Politics & Policy