Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is now the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Many people are aware of his focus on the Tenth Amendment, his state’s tremendous record of job creation (40% of all jobs created since the beginning of the recession have been in Texas), and his formidable campaigning abilities. But as with all other Republican candidates, there are rumors swirling about his positions and history that are worth examining. Let’s take them, point by point.
Myth #1: Perry is the return of Bush and therefore unelectable.
Unlike Sarah Palin, Perry is literally undefeated. He has never lost an election – that’s ten straight contested elections. In 2008, Perry ripped President Bush’s high-spending approach to governance. In revenge, the entire Bush political team – Bush 41, James Baker, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes -- mobilized against him in 2010, backing squishy Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the gubernatorial race. Hutchison started up with a 25 point lead, thanks to that support. By the end of the primaries, Hutchison was down 22 points. That’s a 47 point swing, folks. Perry is able to gain wide and deep support. He’s not Bush – Karl Rove is already attacking him. And he knows how to punch his opponents in the mouth, as Mitt Romney is already learning.
Myth #2: Perry is soft on social issues.
This is perhaps the most bizarre assertion by some of Perry’s opponents. They accuse him of vacillating on gay marriage, and point to his support for mandatory HPV vaccinations as evidence that he’s soft on premarital sex. Both of these points are wrong. Perry is staunchly anti-gay marriage. He is also staunch Tenth Amendment, which means that he believes that states should have the right to pick their poison (an eminently correct Constitutional position). Thus, “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas.” He does support a federal marriage amendment. As far as the HPV vaccination, Perry has made clear he went about it the wrong way – he did sign an executive order allowing folks to opt out, but says he shouldn’t have mandated anything in the first place. His support for the measure was driven, he says with credibility, by his hatred for cancer, of which several of his family members have died.
Myth #3: Perry is a religious fanatic.
Based on his speech at “The Response” earlier this month, some are attempting to paint Perry as a religious kook, a weirdo who thinks he takes his orders from on high. Perry is no such thing. He supported a very secular Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 election cycle. He has heavy support from the religious Jewish community. His federalism conflicts with many of the stances of the more far-right religious communities. Perry’s religiosity should be an asset rather than a detriment in this campaign.
Myth #4: Perry is soft on Islam.
Salon.com recently reported that Perry was a “pro-Shariah” candidate, a charge that obviously got heavy traction among conservatives – and with good reason. It’s a serious charge. It’s also dramatically false, as columnist David Stein points out. Perry’s relationship is with a Muslim leader called the Aga Khan, who leads a sect called the Ismailis, which has 15-20 million followers. Aga Khan has been labeled an infidel by both Sunnis and Shias for his support for Israel. Perry worked with Aga Khan to implement an educational element in the Texas curriculum about Islam. Here are some of the elements of that educational program: “Muslims often lack respect for Western traditions and points of view … From its early days, Islam reacted aggressively toward its civilized neighbors the Byzantines and the West …While Westerns studied Islamic culture, Muslims showed almost no interest in Western culture, remaining ignorant of modernity and its impact.” The program also calls Israel “the historic homeland of Jews” and gives details about how Arab states refused to admit Palestinian refugees after 1948. There’s a reason Perry has won the Defender of Jerusalem award from the State of Israel, and it’s not just because Texas is Israel’s fourth largest trading partner.
Quasi-Myth #5: Perry is soft on immigration.
This is the only spot on Perry’s record where he will have some explaining to do. His record on illegal immigration is mixed. He opposed SB 1070 in Arizona, feeling that it placed enforcement obligations in the hands of states that ought to lie with the federal government; he opposed EVerify, a program designed to punish employers who hire illegals; he signed a Texas DREAM Act which allowed in-state tuition for children of illegals. On the other hand, he has taken strong action against sanctuary cities; he has executed a Mexican national who raped and murdered an American; he has called for heavy border security, including drones to monitor activity areas. Unlike the other candidates, he is governor of a border state and routinely works with the Mexican government. He won 39 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010.
So, is Perry the right man for the job? In the days and weeks to come, we will find out much more about him. There is mudslinging to come, but so far so good.