Well, here’s his 12-minute speech…
A kooky or divisive speech, this isn’t. It’s a religious speech. It asks folks in times of trouble to find God. It’s not a fire-and-brimstone speech, it doesn’t trash anybody – and even the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza had to admit it came off well. Is there politics in it? Perry says God doesn’t get involved in political parties. That’s a good line; for those who would say Perry is co-opting religion for political purposes, it’s pretty tough to make the case for that when he says God doesn’t favor him or his side. Asking God to bless the President sure is dastardly and cynical as well.
Unprecedented? Hardly. It’s in line with a very long tradition in American politics, on both sides of the aisle. And as Ryan Streeter notes at Conservative Home, if Perry was playing politics with the speech he was at least going big…
But while the media predictably saw the event in terms of Perry positioning himself among religious conservatives, the political angle was more interesting and significant than that. On Saturday Perry did something the other 2012 GOP candidates have avoided doing: he put America’s biggest problems beyond the reach of politicians alone and focused on the condition of the nation itself.
Everyone else – Romney, Bachmann, Pawlenty and the others – has talked about America’s chief challenges as political: Obama and the Democrats are spending us to Hades, and we need to throw them out. Perry’s event was a call to prayer for the troubled America that all of us have had a hand in imperiling. If we fall over the cliff into Hades, it’s not only the fault of the political class. Calling Americans – and especially the faithful among them – to shoulder the burden of our troubled times is an old tradition in our country that, to date, the other candidates have not effectively embraced.
Perry will announce his 2012 run this Saturday in South Carolina, according to news reports, and it’s likely that he won’t give the same speech he gave in front of 30,000 Christians in Houston last Saturday. What’s likely is he’ll give an economic and fiscal speech contrasting his record in Texas with that of the guy in the White House.
But if Perry’s tone is the same – namely, if he speaks about the country as a whole rather than the partisan bickering at ground level and talks about what he’d like a Rick Perry-led America would look like – he’s likely to set off a bomb among the 2012 field. Tim Pawlenty gave an economic speech back in April which put his campaign on the precipice of that kind of relevance, but Pawlenty doesn’t come from the commanding position Perry does as the governor of the most successful state in the country during its most successful period. Perry could win the presidency on his record alone; for Pawlenty, the Republican governor of a far-left state with a record of producing disastrous presidential candidates (Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale), the bar is much higher.
Pawlenty couldn’t carry off a speech attempting to unite the entire country this early in the game. It’s all he can do to unite the conservative movement or the Republican Party; and so far he hasn’t been able to do that. Nor has anyone else in the race; conservatives don’t trust Mitt Romney or John Huntsman, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul have struggled to get beyond a constituency of Tea Party factions and Herman Cain is an attractive candidate without a definable political base – which is a common problem for a first-timer. That’s why nobody can get much above 20 percent in the polls so far, and that’s why there’s been so much discussion of the GOP field as fractured and weak.
But if Perry can enter the race on Saturday with a big-picture, inspirational speech, one which doesn’t rely on a point-by-point refutation of the Obama presidency but rather casts him as the guy who can rise above the shrill denunciations, the race for the Republican nomination will be over.
He’ll be speaking on the same day the Ames straw poll will be going on in Iowa, and that’s supposed to be a big deal. What it will really amount to, though, is a competition between Pawlenty, Bachmann and Paul for who can do the most effective job of spamming the poll results. Perry’s speech will likely overshadow the Ames results, and it will probably suck the air out of the Fox News debate set for Thursday night – whoever wins that debate will get all of a day and a half of coverage before it’s all about the new guy in the race.
And that leaves Romney, who has the money and the name recognition to survive the Perry arrival. There’s a great chance some of the struggling candidates like Huntsman, Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be splashed away when Perry dives in, but at this point this is still a race between Romney and whoever emerges as the anti-Romney.
Since Romney’s whole campaign to date has been about trashing Obama, Perry’s entry could be very disruptive to him. If Perry gets in, Romney’s going to have to explain why he’s a better candidate. He has the money to do that, but does he have the message? Can Romney (a Mormon) paint Perry (an evangelical Christian) as a religious nut without opening himself up to the same rough treatment on the question of faith that Mike Huckabee served up to him in 2008? Can Romney the successful businessman and governor of high-tax Massachusetts with a middling economic record trump Perry’s 750,000 jobs created in no-income-tax Texas over the last decade? Can Romney position himself to the center against Perry and win a GOP primary heavily weighted in favor of exurban and Southern conservatives, particularly with the Romneycare ball and chain around his ankle?
Perhaps he can, but he certainly won’t do it by happily flinging mud at Obama while ignoring the field. Neither Romney nor any other candidates in the current field have made a compelling case to identify the real problem in the country for which Obama serves as a mere symptom; the shallow, entitled and spoiled mentality which would make it possible for someone like Obama to be elected in the first place. Republican voters are very plugged in to this problem and scared to death by it, and independents are uneasy at the idea that we’re in decline as a society and not just a government. Nobody has had the guts to speak to that yet, and nobody – outside of Perry, given his record as governor of Texas – in the field might be qualified to do so without coming off as a scold.
But Perry can. He’s been a success. He governs a state which stands tall amid a country in turmoil. He governs a state in which big ideas are being applied to big problems and getting positive results. He represents an America which maintains its traditions without apology, an America which exudes strength, the America of an Air Force captain and C-130 pilot and an America where an Aggie from Paint Creek can make good without government largesse or ancestral wealth paving his way.
Perry can also say, like Reagan, that he was once a Democrat until the leftism which ultimately led that party – and the country – to Obama made such an affiliation unpalatable for him. Far from a negative, it actually positions the unapologetic conservative to the center and serves as an invitation to the millions of Democrats who have lost their party to join his cause.
The guess here is that the Left, and particularly its propagandists in Washington and Manhattan newsrooms, has weighed all of this and has concluded Perry is a mortal threat to their man in the White House. That’s why we saw ridiculous protestors outside Perry’s event in Houston, and that’s why the response to The Response was as shrill as it was. For example there was left-wing pundit Christopher Hahn, a former Chuck Schumer flack, who called Perry a hypocrite this morning for “not governing as a Christian” since Texas is less redistributive than the nation as a whole.
And there was this, from Huffington Post troglodyte James Moore…
The devout can be deceptive. But sometimes they are just blatantly hypocritical. And because the attendees of Rick Perry’s and the American Family Association’s (AFA) The Response event in Houston are human, there was an abundance of contradiction in Reliant Stadium. A lot of good comedy material, too. But too much sadness to ignore.
The AFA might call itself Christian but its intolerance has gotten the organization labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of the nature of written and verbal comments from AFA leaders about gays and Jews. (Both are hell-bound, apparently; Jews because, well, you know, and gays because they have “chosen” an alternative lifestyle.) Of course, AFA says it loves gays and is praying for them to understand the sinful choices they have made. And Jews, well, you know. If AFA believes you can “pray away the gay,” can you get rid of your Jewishness, too?
Sounded like AFA founder James Dobson was also praying for President Obama. The prayers are needed since Dobson equated Obama’s policies and his administration with the Nazis, but in a kind of loving, forgiving, Christian sort of way. Anyone looking at the crowd in the stadium, though, might have recognized the borderline mass hysteria as something they had seen on The History Channel’s black and white films of the rising Reich, arms raised, chanting, stomping feet, tears.
The strident denunciations of Perry are coming. They’ll be intense, and their goal will be to paint Perry as an imbecile or a nut. He’ll be set forth as a dunce because of a so-so academic record at Texas A&M, the accusation that he’s a closet homosexual – which was made and disposed of back in 2004 – will resurface, some indication of corruption somewhere in his history will be trotted out, and so on.
The denunciations are coming, because if Perry gains momentum Obama can’t match his record. And with the current president’s political career near death after Friday’s S&P credit downgrade and today’s catastrophic 634-point market selloff, unless something unforeseen happens all that is required is a reasonably solid GOP nominee and an electoral blowout is in the making.
Perry’s speech showed that while (as Cillizza noted) he’s of the religious movement, he’s not a particularly threatening representative of it. That’s trouble for those who would strangle his candidacy; he’s looking more and more like the solid Republican candidate the electorate has been waiting for.