Capitol Idea: Rick Perry’s No George W. Bush? Oh, Sure, He Is

Pay attention, and you will see similarities emerge between Gov. Rick Perry and the 43rd president.

As we get to know the current Republican Texas governor who might become president, we’re being encouraged not to draw too many comparisons to the last Republican Texas governor who actually held the job.

“Biographical similarities aside, [Rick] Perry is not the second coming of George W. Bush, either stylistically or substantively,” advises Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune.

As the head of an Austin-based news service which covers Perry as the chief executive of the Lone Star State, Smith certainly is in a position to offer such advice.

Smith observes that there is no love lost between the former Bushies and Team Perry.

The fact that it was no less than top Bush White House aide Karl Rove who rose last week to slam Perry’s attack on Federal Reserve Chairman (and fellow Bush alumnus) Ben Bernanke as a traitor certainly attests to the truthfulness of that.

And Smith wisely notes that Perry is much more “hard-knuckled” than in his predecessor in governing Texas, and that unlike Bush, Perry makes no pretense that his conservatism is in any way compassionate.

(I would argue, however, that in the current hyper-conservative political climate of the GOP, if Bush could come back to run for another four years in the White House, even he would be running to the right of his own eight-year presidency.)

All in all, Smith makes a cogent case, and for what it is, he offers good counsel.

Yet, at a broader scale, I think Smith misses a vital point. For most of the American people, Rick Perry will come across very much like the Bush they remember.

Smith’s argument comes with a nuance that will be lost on most casual voters who are outside of Texas or the Capital Beltway.

It may be true that as a candidate, Bush would never have savaged the incumbent Fed chairman the way Perry did.

But to a a wider audience not familiar with the intricacies of the issue, Perry’s rant just sounds like more of the the sort of cowboy bluster they had grown accustomed to hearing from, you guessed it, George W. Bush.

And the next time Perry comes on TV, just watch him. Something — something — about him seems very Bush like. Close your eyes and listen to him speak. Occasionally, but often enough to notice, you’ll hear something in the cadence that hints back at the 43rd president.

Also, watch Perry. Again, there’s something about a recurring tilt of the head, point of the fingers — just the general cocksure swagger — that has George W. Bush all over it.

Consciously and intellectually, of course, voters will separate Perry and Bush, and understand these are different men.

Unconsciously, though, I think over the long haul of the campaign, as voters continue to watch and listen to Perry, the association will be made and will become hard to ignore.

Which is not to say that Perry is unelectable as president.

In 1980, many Democrats rooted for Ronald Reagan to emerge as the GOP nominee. They believed, erroneously, that Reagan’s (for the times) hard-charging conservatism and cowboy swagger would turn off voters and deliver Jimmy Carter a second term.

Obviously, the results that year were different, and as they say, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Democrats in 2012 would be unwise to make the same mistake they did in 1980. They should not “misunderestimate” Rick Perry, to coin a term.

The economy could be so poor, and the anger at President Obama, so pronounced, that voters choose to pull the lever for Rick Perry.

What I am saying is that by Election Day, they would be doing so having to drown out eight years of George W. Bush echoing in their heads.


Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Rick Perry’s No George W. Bush? Oh, Sure, He Is on Blogcritics.

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