Every Thursday, starting today, we’ll be publishing Bull Session, a roundup of the political odds and ends of the week, penning them all into one overstuffed corral.
Kicking off a week in which it seemed everybody was running for something—or running from something—former governor Rick Perry slipped out of Washington, D.C., on Sunday night, his name now but a whisper in its storied halls and congressional subpoenas.
Perry’s three-year reign as secretary of energy was widely hailed for its discretion, a relative oasis of calm amid the churn-and-burn of President Trump’s cabinet that was most distinguished by his admirably not getting fired/setting everything on fire. It makes sense, then, that he would leave the same way he ostensibly served, quietly ducking out amid the logy, pie-stuffed fog of a post-Thanksgiving weekend, coincidentally just as his name started popping up again in impeachment proceedings.
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But it wouldn’t be Rick Perry doing, well, anything without an accompanying video. And so, Perry officially signed off from public life with another cinematic tribute to himself, filled with all the silent B-roll of ceremonial handshaking set to “inspirational” stock music that you’ve come to expect from a guy who started making campaign ads decades ago and just doesn’t know how to stop.
Today I bid farewell to the Department of @ENERGY. It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve in the @realDonaldTrump Administration as your Secretary. Thank you to my wife, my children, and to the American people for allowing me to serve. Signing off. – RP pic.twitter.com/AlxYNLsqrf
— Rick Perry (@SecretaryPerry) December 2, 2019
“I want to tell everyone what a wonderful, fabulous trip it’s been for me and my family and hopefully for the American people,” Perry says of this three-year Outward Bound excursion to a magical place that once existed outside the realms of his perception. Over a sun-dappled montage of Perry gesturing excitedly at pipelines, tankers, and nuclear reactors, he rattles off all his greatest achievements since taking office: making the U.S. the number one oil and gas producing country in the world (something it’s been since Obama, but okay); having “seen our small modular reactors be accepted as a real technology” (a statement that is both vague and largely theoretical, but sure); and… a third thing. The laughs, we guess. The final twenty seconds of the film are just Perry walking down a hallway onto an elevator—and if only we could somehow fashion a turbine powered by gratuitous slow motion, perhaps America would truly achieve the energy independence Perry already falsely claimed.
Of course, Perry’s fellow Texan lawmakers simply couldn’t let him leave without offering up a little iMovie-d encomium of their own. Part eulogy, part filibuster, all of it delivered to what appears to be a largely empty House chamber, their own exaltation of Perry celebrated the former governor’s esteemed political legacy of being a really good dude, with most paying homage specifically to his long public record of friendship. “He was a man that could connect just about anybody, not because he had a special political gift, but he had a genuine love for people, and that was his gift,” says Congressman Jodey Arrington, capturing the general thrust of the remarks, as well as Perry’s particular acumen.
Still, perhaps no one summed up Perry’s essence quite like his old ghostwriter Chip Roy, who offered up this appropriate muddle of platitudes: “I wholeheartedly endorse making Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in the lives of Americans as possible, because our country will be ever greater, as the state of Texas has been ever greater under his leadership, and since our inception as a state, and leading this country, and leading this world.” It was an impressively run-on glob of impassioned soundbites that verged on being completely incoherent, and crafted entirely for the benefit of glad-handing cronies. It’s hard to imagine a better tribute to Rick Perry.
Roy, meanwhile, got an early jump on his own confusing stump speeches this week, officially filing for reelection in the Twenty-First Congressional District against Democratic challenger Wendy Davis, who launched her own bid on Wednesday. Appearing before a two-hundred-strong crowd in a San Antonio beer hall, a clearly fired-up Roy told his supporters, “This is our Alamo. This is our moment for conservatism to shine and reign supreme. I do not buy this idea that Texas is flipping blue and neither should you.” Granted, perhaps “the Alamo” wasn’t the strongest metaphor, given that just about everyone there, y’know, lost and died. But in Roy’s defense, Texas history wasn’t a required class where Roy grew up in Virginia.
Kay Maybe Not Okay
Also filing this week was Colleyville city councilman Chris Putnam, who is challenging long-tenured Congresswoman Kay Granger in the Twelfth Congressional District. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted, their race is already “drawing national attention, as many expect it to pit establishment Republicans against their more conservative grassroots counterparts”—in this case, putting the incumbent Granger, who has been a loyal if relatively measured supplicant to President Trump, up against Putnam, who argues that she hasn’t been nearly sycophantic enough. In fact, one of the key early talking points of Putnam’s campaign is that, back in 2016, Granger called upon Trump to drop out of the presidential race, after the Access Hollywood tape emerged of him discussing groping women. At the time, Granger called Trump’s comments “disgusting,” back when such standards still existed.
Granger has avoided anything smacking of criticism since then, deflecting, sidestepping, and generally ignoring Trump’s myriad controversies. Even Trump seems to have forgotten about it: he invited Granger to the World Series, and he even gave her a special shout-out during his October rally in Dallas, where he called her “a fan of ours right from the beginning.” Still, Putnam is betting on voters being slightly more versed in politics than the president. He’s also hoping they agree that, first and foremost, the Twelfth District wants “someone that will stand up to Nancy Pelosi and defend Trump,” as he tells the Star-Telegram, a blindly fealty he believes should be not only aggressively loud but, if possible, retroactive. It’s a bold strategy that could pose a serious threat to Granger, who may have to shed the last remaining vestige of her conscience if she wants to stay in this thing.
Putnam’s certainly not alone when it comes to putting Trump first. This week, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took a break from tweeting about Trump, appearing on Fox News to talk about Trump, and generally hoping that Trump will notice him to file paperwork on the president’s behalf, officially placing him on the Texas ballot in 2020. Patrick, who’s also chair of Trump’s Texas campaign, commemorated this incredible honor of performing menial tasks for a man who almost 100-percent thinks he’s “the SportsCenter guy,” offering up some typically gushing, combative thoughts in a statement: “President Trump has done what Texans elected him to do and a strong majority of Texans are ready to reelect him, no matter what socialist, job-killing, energy-hating, tax increasing, pro-abortion, anti-gun candidate the Democrats manage to drag across the finish line,” wrote Patrick, who is nothing if not a statesman.
Patrick had a few more inspirational words to offer, praising the state’s general economic growth under Trump, the president’s commitment to border security and the Second Amendment, and his appointing of conservative judges. He also made this somewhat bizarre claim: “President Trump is a good friend to Texas who—in stark contrast to his predecessor—stepped up during Hurricane Harvey to ensure Texas had the funds needed for recovery and rebuilding.”
It’s unclear what, exactly, Patrick’s referring to there. Obama wasn’t president during Harvey, obviously, and yet he did join all the other living ex-presidents in raising funds for its victims, even appearing at a concert in College Station. Obama also provided millions in disaster relief for Texas throughout his administration, once even overruling FEMA to do so—and even during those years when Governor Greg Abbott was suing his administration, dozens of times over. What’s more, one of Trump’s first acts as president was to scrap an Obama-era order establishing a new infrastructure standard reducing the risk of flood damage, which our “good friend” tossed out about two weeks before Harvey hit. He also, somewhat infamously, visited Houston only after being criticized for snubbing it; made the outlandish claim that the Coast Guard was tied up rescuing people who “went out on their boats to watch the hurricane;” told a group of survivors huddling in a shelter to “have a good time;” then joked that Texas “made a fortune” on the storm that killed more than one hundred people. But hopefully hurricanes won’t actually be a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign, especially when there are so many more compelling, more abstract fears to run on.
Beto Enters Funemployment
Abbott also said he’s convinced that Trump would lead a victorious 2020 for Texas Republicans, predicting “big GOP wins up and down the ballot”—a notion that Beto O’Rourke this week announced his intentions to challenge. Newly loosed from his failed presidential bid—and already a few weeks into growing a nice little unemployment beard—O’Rourke has now set his sights on flipping the Texas House and has begun soliciting his donors to support all the Democratic candidates running in the state. After all, you gotta find little things to keep you busy, and Amy’s surely already sick of him just hanging around, playing guitar to In on the Kill Taker.
Naturally, Beto’s base would prefer it if he were one of those candidates. In a new poll released this week, O’Rourke was far and away the top choice among Texas Democrats to challenge Senator John Cornyn, a race that O’Rourke has not entered and has already said he has no interest in joining. That didn’t stop Cornyn from using the mere threat of O’Rourke to make money, obviously. In a new fundraising appeal, Cornyn wrote of the looming December 9 deadline to file, warning that “Beto is, without a doubt, weighing his options.” Those same polls also show that Cornyn probably doesn’t have any reason to be scared, performatively or otherwise: O’Rourke may handily trounce all the other Democratic candidates, but against Cornyn he still trails at 46-42. Still, as this week showed, it’s never too early to think about covering your ass.