Rick Perry sure sounds like he's running for President. He's visiting Republican strongholds and swing states alike to introduce himself to donors, activists, and party leaders. He's sharpening his rhetoric to hone in on social issues that score well with Republican primary voters. He's making a concerted effort to not only become the evangelical of choice for the Religious Far-Right, but also organize communities of faith in the process.
And make no mistake — Perry poses a particular threat as a candidate for President or Vice President: he could conceivably unite the Religious Right, Tea Party types, and “let them eat cake” business interests, forming the kind of coalition that elected the most recent Texas Governor to make a presidential run, George W Bush.
Perry's rising in the polls, and I think it's exactly because he represents a viable common choice for the various special interests and groups that dominate Republican politics. In a recent post by Nate Silver on Pawlenty's chances, he noted that voters who liked Pawlenty were still likely to choose another candidate over him. Essentially, Perry could be that alternative choice for supporters of many of the other GOP nope-fuls, positioning himself as the strongest anti-Obama contender and peeling off the soft support of other candidates in the race. (Side note: mildly alarmed that Nate Silver compares my favorite beer to Ron Paul. Gag.)
So what are some of the signals that Perry's laying a grassroots foundation for a Presidential bid?
He's Hard-Core Courting the Religious Right. Perry's never been a stranger to the folks who really don't understand the existence — let alone importance — of a separation of church and state. His prayer rally at Reliant next month is a huge way for his nascent campaign to start organizing right-wing religious voters. The event can be promoted by religious organizations since it is, essentially, a religious event. Churches can sign up to live-stream the event locally, and individuals can host a house-party type event themselves. From a grassroots list- and constituency-building standpoint, it's huge. These are the overzealous volunteers, and a huge component of the activist base for Republicans.
Even more disconcerting from a policy standpoint are his comments to a group of evangelicals back in May, where Perry basically stated that we need to hand our nation's problems over to God to sort out. Salon quotes Perry as saying, “And I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God and say, 'God, You're going to have to fix this.'” (Personally I think God better priorities than instituting draconian Tort Reforms that deny regular citizens their day in court, but evidently that's just me.)
He's Taking a Harsher Anti-Immigrant Stance. Perry's always been fairly moderate on immigration issues as Governor of Texas, and has enjoyed not-abysmal support from Latino voters. Yet towards the end of the special session, Perry was pulling out all the stops to pass the rabidly anti-immigrant sanctuary cities bill, even publicly chastising Sen. Robert Duncan for not adding it to the budget bill. Melissa del Bosque has a must-read article in the Texas Observer detailing Perry's desire to pass the bill over opposition from the likes of Bob Perry and Charles Butts (whose businesses presumably rely on plenty of undocumented immigrant laborers at various points in the supply-chain). I wouldn't go so far as to say that Perry is shunning big-business entirely, but he's definitely decided that playing to the rabidly anti-immigrant Republican voter base is more important right now than sucking up to the corporatists who would undoubtedly still back him as GOP nominee.
It's important to note that efforts like the sanctuary cities bill take their terrible toll not necessarily on immigration per se, but the human immigrants themselves. Perry, who just last year questioned Arizona's draconian SB 1070 from a law-enforcement perspective, now wants Texas to pass a bill that allows a check on an individual's immigration status at any intersection with law enforcement, and would in all likelihood have had extremely harmful effects on public safety in minority and immigrant communities.
Oh, and last week he also executed a Mexican national without ever giving the man access to consular representation, International Law and the Vienna Convention be damned.
He's Ramping up Rhetoric on Abortion. Fresh off forcing a vaginal probe into the abortion-seeking women of Texas, Perry has continued to promote his anti-choice agenda. Last weekend Perry attended an event for anti-choice Hispanic voters in California, railing on Obama's overturning of Bush's global gag rule, which prevented US funds from going to international groups that performed abortions. Perry has upped his anti-abortion rhetoric in a lot of early pre-campaign appearances. It's an issue on which he has a huge record of coming between a woman and her right to choose. And it resonates extremely well with far-right Republicans, and the more zealous activist-types.
Again, the key take-away here is that Perry represents a strong opportunity for the GOP to unite the various factions of the party that came together to keep George W. Bush in office for two terms. Most importantly, Perry seems to be going after the most active, zealous segments of the Republican party early on. It makes sense — scoop up the die-hards and activists early on who will do the work. He's pushing buttons that have strong reactions from the GOP faithful. And as other candidates fail to gain broader traction, he may begin to look more and more like the best anti-Obama choice the GOP has this year.
And that should be a really scary thought to all of us in Texas. We've seen the man win elections, and we've seen what he does as Governor. We understand the full degree to which a Perry presidency would wreak havoc on our nation. Replication of his failed policies here in Texas on a national scale would be an unmitigated disaster.
Seems like it's high time for those of us in Texas to start shouting from the rooftops exactly how bad Rick Perry is, and what it would mean for America if he were somehow to get elected President.