In the week after he announced he would run for president, Texas Governor Rick Perry attacked the targets right-wing Republicans love to hate, ranging from the Federal Reserve to climate scientists to evolutionists to the current president, who allegedly makes the military feel ashamed to be wearing the uniform of the United States. His charge that it would be “treasonous” of Fed Chair Ben Bernanke to try to help the economy with more quantitative easing, issued with the warning that “we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” grabbed most of the headlines. But the other comments were barely less extreme. Global warming, he said in New Hampshire on August 17, was a con cooked up by grant-hungry scientists.
The national press has largely pigeonholed Perry into the “Tea Party” category, a designation that is certainly not without merit. It was, for example, outside a Tea Party rally in April 2009 that Perry made his remark about the possibility of Texas seceding1:
Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. You know, my hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come out of that?
Yet calling Perry only a Tea Party candidate is misleading. He is also a candidate of the Republican establishment—the senior party members who raise millions of dollars and influence the party’s priorities—because that establishment today is itself quite right-wing. It is based chiefly not on Wall Street anymore but in Texas (and in Wichita, Kansas, where Koch Industries is located). The “tiny splinter group” of “a few Texas oil millionaires” whom Dwight Eisenhower famously disparaged in 1954 now is arguably the most powerful tendency within the party. The state’s rich Republicans have been the chief backers of everything from George W. Bush’s campaigns to attacks on Democrats like the Swift Boat ads used against John Kerry in 2004.
While it’s reportedly the case that Karl Rove is no fan of Perry now, he helped launch the governor’s career, acting as his adviser when he successfully ran for agriculture commissioner in 1990 against the liberal populist Jim Hightower. Rove may feel, according to reports, that Perry lacks some of the varnish—and therefore potential appeal beyond the South—that Bush acquired by coming east to Andover and Yale. Perry went to Texas A&M; but that people are even speaking of Bush’s East Coast varnish is instructive. In any case Perry is very much a product of the party Rove helped build, and he is therefore part of that establishment whether Rove currently claims him or not.
He is, then, a kind of hybrid candidate, representing a fusion…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.