GOP Presidential Candidates Series: Rick Perry

(For past entries in the series, see: Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty)

Time for another entry in the series, and today we look at Texas Governor Rick Perry, the most recent entrant into the Republican nomination contest. Perry’s campaign image is based on two claims:

1)  He is just as credible a candidate as Mitt Romney, which means he is a strong, smart leader who can beat Barack Obama, and 2) He is more conservative than the flip-flopping Mitt Romney. If Perry can successfully portray himself as fulfilling both of those claims, then he will win the Republican nomination. Initially, it looked like Perry had both qualities down. Now, it appears there are some serious holes in Perry’s narrative.

Perry’s policy and stances on the issues

Perry has dense ties to the Tea Party. They like his staunch fiscal conservatism, no-apologies attitude and his strong religious faith. Perry is very well known on the faith side, having declared three “Days of Prayer for Rain in Texas”  during that state’s historic wildfires. He also hosted a huge, evangelical, semi-political prayer rally right before he declared his Presidential candidacy. Clearly, he sees no problem with using his public office to promote his faith.

Perry also double checks the boxes on many key conservative issues. As the Governor of Texas, he has presided over more executions than a Chinese official at a pro-democracy rally. Conservatives seem to love that. He is also a huge supporter of gun rights. Notably, he jogs with a pistol at his side and has used it to shoot a coyote that looked at his dog funny.

Rick Perry has frequently used belligerent words to describe Social Security, calling it a “Ponzi scheme.” On this issue, his differences with the rest of the GOP field are probably more fluff than substance. Romney has criticized Perry for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, but they both want to seriously scale back or transform the program, so there’s really no difference in substance between the two.

Perry does not have a detailed economic plan, like most of the candidates in the field. He prefers to say that Texas is his economic plan. Perry is trying to say that because Texas did better than many states over the past few years, that shows Perry could improve the US’s economy. Going along with that, he likes to take credit for the fact that half the jobs created in the US over X period of time were created in Texas. While its not clear that Perry had anything to do with his state’s job creation over the past few years, this is an important point in Perry’s campaign and it needs to be honestly assessed.

Ezra Klein breaks down the why and how Texas has been adding jobs over the past few years. Apparently, “almost half of the state’s job growth came in the education, health care, and government sectors. Notice a pattern? These are all sectors that depend, at least in part, on government support.” Another 13 percent of  Texas’ jobs have come from the oil and gas  industries. So is Rick Perry planning to boost government spending and suddenly uncover oil and natural gas deposits across the US when he becomes President? Hell no. The dirty little secret is that Texas had more jobs than other states (in part) because Texas government spending actually increased  from 2008-2012. But Rick Perry has promised to slash spending if made President. For those keeping track so far, Perry either can’t or won’t replicate a solid three-fifths of the “Texas miracle” when/if he becomes President.

So what about the rest of Texas’ job growth? Most of that can be attributed to Texas fast population growth over the past few years. More people in the state=more need for goods and services=more jobs. Another factor is the fact that the housing bubble was much smaller in Texas than it was in the rest of the country, thanks to plentiful land, high property taxes and surprisingly strict regulations on lending. Again, is Rick Perry going to recommend increasing immigration into the US and adopting strict regulations on banks? No. So its unlikely that he will bring these facets of the “Texas miracle” to the national stage.

“But what about business climate??” you scream. I’m sure that Texas’ low taxes and generally light regulations have contributed to growth in that state on the margins. But they have contributed much less than the other factors mentioned above. Strong demand trumps a good business climate any day of the week and there has been comparatively strong demand in Texas for the past few years  which has drawn in jobs.

In short, there’s really no evidence that low taxes and fewer regulations would bring the United  States’ economy any of the relative economic success that Texas has enjoyed. A lot of factors contributed to the “Texas miracle,” the least of which was low taxes and few regulations. When you also take into account that Texas leads the nation in percent of workers with minimum wage jobs, in percent of people without health insurance and is the sixth-most impoverished state in the nation, the Texas miracle starts to look like a Texas tragedy.

On most social issues, like abortion, guns, gays and religion, Perry is a conservative’s conservative. On other issues he has taken some bold stances that are against the norm in conservative politics. He wisely tried to get young girls inoculated against HPV and he has been quite moderate in his treatment of the state’s Hispanic population. Texas has not pursued an Arizona-style anti-immigrant law, while Perry signed a law giving the children of illegal immigrants access to Texas’ universities at the cost of in-state tuition. However, Perry has signed a bill requiring photo IDs to cast a vote, which will limit the poor and elderly’s access to the ballot box, with no apparent positive benefits.

The politics of Rick Perry’s campaign

As I’ve already written, Perry came into the race with a lot of promise and a full head of steam. He was going to be the candidate who could rally the support of both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, while using Texas’ economic record as a bludgeon against Barack Obama in the general election. After his abysmal performance in the past few debates, Rick Perry is slipping in the polls  and people have raised serious doubts about his preparation and ability to be President. Some commentators have already thrown Perry in with the other “crazy” candidates of this cycle (Bachmann, Newt Gingrich).

Obviously, Perry has to do whatever he can to shake off this characterization, but the damage might already be done. Polls show Perry dropping and there is talk that Chris Christie might enter the race while Herman Cain is rising. People have moved on from Perry and he is now coming off as somewhat of a fad. It will be interesting to see where the campaign goes from here. There’s not another debate scheduled for awhile, so that gives the candidates time to message and spin. No matter what happens in the interim, Perry has to pull off a stunning performance in the next debate to turn his ship around. He has a legendary campaign manager and has never lost a race, so a comeback is within the realm of possibility.

As far as how he stacks up in a potential match-up with Barack Obama, Perry polls worse than Mitt Romney. It seems that the general public isn’t ready for another swaggering, fact-averse Texas governor in the White House, so soon after the last one ended in disaster.

Though he’s made some reasonable decisions, Perry’s economics are more of the same old Republican boilerplate. He didn’t learn a thing from his time in Texas that could help the rest of the country. I’m a fan of secular politics. While Perry’s faith-based grandstanding doesn’t bother me as much as it does many people, it certainly doesn’t endear him to me at all. The last thing this country needs is more culture wars and wedge issues. Rick Perry seem to be all bluster and no substance.

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