Hot off the heels of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decisive victory over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson for the Lone Star State’s GOP gubernatorial nomination, Daily Beast columnist Mark McKinnon thinks the governor is well-positioned for a bid at the presidency, or at least the VP slot:
There’s a fight right now for the soul of the Republican Party. There’s a dominant and loud wing led by social ideologues like Sarah Palin, who endorsed Perry. But if she doesn’t run for president—and if she’s actually smart, she won’t because she’ll never wield as much power, influence, or money than she does now, and she’s unlikely to win a general election—then the field opens up considerably. And who’s left to fill that right- wing spectrum? Mike Huckabee has a prison commutation problem. Rick Santorum has a narrow Christian base of support and as a former senator spent a lot of time inside the unpopular Beltway. And if a more moderate candidate like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, or Mitch Daniels (watch out for Mitch “the Knife”) wins the nomination, they’ll be looking for someone to put in the No. 2 slot with appeal to Southerners and strong conservatives.
Perry currently denies having any interest in the White House, but given the nature of politics, that doesn’t mean much. And McKinnon is right that there’s no clear-cut conservative favorite among the current field of presumed 2012 contenders, giving Perry a potential opening if he wants it. But should conservatives want Perry?
The pro-life tax cutter’s record as governor is generally conservative, though there are a few issues the Right should keep in mind. In February 2007, he signed an executive order mandating that sixth-grade girls in Texas public schools be vaccinated with Merck & Company’s then-new vaccine against the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus, despite concerns over the drug’s safety and parental rights. He has condemned several conservative immigration-reform proposals using similar “divisiveness” rhetoric as the Left. During the 2008 Republican presidential primary, Perry’s first instincts were to endorse the most liberal candidates in the field, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
McKinnon also notes Perry’s brief flirtation with the idea that, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows” whether or not Texas might secede from the Union (even thought they legally can’t). The subsequently-disavowed sentiment was more political theatre than sincere proposal, but no matter how objectionable we might find the federal government’s current agenda, conservatives should be extremely wary of irresponsible rhetoric about breaking apart the nation just because elections don’t go our way.
McKinnon suspects the blemishes will fade from public memory if Perry wins the general election. Perhaps they will, and given the entirety of the final slate of 2012 candidates, who knows whether or not his imperfections will be better or worse than any other candidates? It’s much too early to be heralding or disqualifying any new standard-bearers, but it’s the perfect time to warn conservatives not to fall for the same trap we tend to keep stumbling into: hero worship.
We on the Right often seem so desperate to find another Ronald Reagan to rescue us from Democrats and RINOs alike that we’ll quickly anoint anybody who shows the first sign of promise, often without carefully judging whether or not they actually fit the bill. George W. Bush, Fred Thompson, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul—all these figures have certain positive qualities (some more so than others), but to varying degrees they’ve all also been built up into heroic, almost Messianic figures that no true human could live up to, their failings all but ignored. Putting somebody on too high a pedestal is a guarantee that when they fall, the impact will be that much harder.