Perry would add another extremist to GOP race

Texas governor, who would be among field’s most conservative candidates, tells Iowa newspaper that ‘I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do’

CHRIS TOMLINSON | Associated Press

AUSTIN — Should Rick Perry conclude that voter discontent has left him an opening to enter the presidential race, the longtime Texas governor would be among the GOP field’s most conservative candidates.

Primary voters would get a skilled politician with TV anchorman looks, a Southern preacher’s oratory and a cowboy’s swagger, matched by a disarming candor and sense of humor. The former cotton farmer from the village of Paint Creek in West Texas has never lost an election in nearly three decades as a politician.

What they wouldn’t get is a candidate whose politics are positioned to unite a Republican electorate that stretches from moderate pro-business fiscal conservatives to evangelical social conservatives, with the tea party falling somewhere along the spectrum.

“Texans, God love them, have that bigger-than-life persona about politics and that doesn’t necessarily play everywhere,” said Christopher Nicholas, a Republican political consultant who has worked extensively in the Northeast and Midwest. “I haven’t heard a lot of Republicans call Social Security a disease.”

Perry has. He branded Social Security and other New Deal programs “the second big step in the march of socialism,” according to a book published last year. The “first step” was a national income tax, which he has said stands alongside the direct election of U.S. senators as a major mistake among the amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In the just-completed Texas legislative session, Perry’s “emergency items” included laws that require a photo ID in order to vote, a sonogram before a woman had an abortion and enforcement of federal immigration laws by local police.

He rejects the idea of global warming and the theory of evolution, arguing for natural climate variations and intelligent design of the universe.

In fact, he said last year when promoting his book, Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America From Washington, which was a state’s rights treatise that railed against the federal government, that he’s too conservative to run for national office.

“The best concrete evidence that I’m really not running for president is this book, because when you read this book, you’re going to see me talking about issues that for someone running for public office, it’s kind of been the third rail if you will,” Perry told The Associated Press shortly after winning re-election in 2010.

Perry doesn’t shy away from his deep conservatism. He embraces it with the same vigor with which he dismisses those who found his shooting of a coyote while the governor was jogging or spending tens of thousands of campaign dollars on a luxury rental home unbecoming a state chief executive.

Working with the fundamentalist American Family Association, Perry urged people to participate in a day of prayer and fasting on Aug. 6, following the example of the Bible’s book of Joel. Courting evangelical Christians always has been one of his core campaign strategies.

“When it comes to conservative social issues, it saddens me when sometimes my fellow Republicans duck and cover in the face of pressure from the left,” Perry told the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans this year. “Our party cannot be all things to all people.”

In the few polls that have included Perry, he ranks high among Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, told The Associated Press on Saturday he thinks it’s very likely that Perry will jump into the race and reshape the state’s caucuses.

“I get the definite impression he’s very likely to run,” Branstad said, basing his opinion on a conversation the governors had Friday. “I think he becomes a significant factor if he becomes a candidate,” Branstad said. “It could change the whole complexion of the Iowa caucus race.”

Perry told The Des Moines Register that he would likely decide in two or three weeks. “But I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs,” Perry said.

Should he run, Perry would seek the support of a wing of the party already courted by conservatives in important states such as Iowa. Those would-be rivals include U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a tea party favorite; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a favorite of anti-abortion activists; and former businessman Herman Cain.

That could split the vote of the party’s conservative base, giving an opening to other Republicans seeking support across the GOP spectrum.

They include front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has reversed positions on several issues conservatives hold dear; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose moderate positions on some issues make him a nonstarter for conservatives; and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is struggling to break out of the pack.

Unlike some of those candidates, Perry has been consistent on culturally conservative issues.

States’ rights, however, is his signature issue.

In 2009, at one of the first rallies of a movement that would evolve into the tea party, he evoked the possibility that Texas might be better off seceding from the Union if what he called federal overreach continued.

He’s since said that lawmakers in state capitals should decide whether to legalize gay marriage or marijuana. In 2010, he toyed with the idea of pulling Texas out of Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care for low-income people. Perry gave up on the idea when the state’s comptroller said it would bankrupt the state.

Perry’s faith in the wisdom of local lawmakers and states’ rights has led him into strident fights with the Environmental Protection Agency.

In June, Perry signed a largely symbolic bill that allows Texas companies to continue producing incandescent light bulbs banned by the EPA, as long as they are sold within the state. Texas is the only state that has refused to put in place the EPA’s new rules regulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee, met with Perry when he visited to California in late June. Steel said Perry sounds a lot like another big-state governor who was able to rely on charisma to win voters over to his conservative ideals. That was California’s Ronald Reagan.

“Reagan said a lot of controversial things, far more than Rick Perry,” Steel said. “It’s how he explained them and addressed them with that disarming smile of his and a very clever quip. Can Rick do that? That’s the question.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Gates may certify DADT repeal this month; GOP debate touches on LGBT issues

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Associated Press he may certify the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” before stepping down at the end of this month, which could allow the ban on open service to end sometime in September. Gates said he will certify DADT repeal this month only if all of the service chiefs recommend it. If not, it will be left to his successor, Leon Panetta.

2. Republican presidential candidates responded to questions about both same-sex marriage and DADT repeal during their debate Monday night in New Hampshire. Watch their responses below, but here’s our takeaway: If Texas Gov. Rick Perry decides to seek the GOP nomination, he’ll have a hard time setting himself apart from other major candidates based on his anti-gay views.

3. What’s with the straight men posing as lesbians in the blogosphere?

—  John Wright

The Economist predicts Rick Perry will soften his stance on gay marriage if he runs for president

Rick Perry

According to The Economist, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is about to pull a reverse Tom Leppert and get all lovey-dovey with the gays. Well, maybe not quite. But Perry is going to “think about” running for president, and if he does, conventional wisdom holds that he’ll have to appeal to “independents” — or at least the more moderate wing of the tea party. In other words, you can get elected and re-elected and re-elected governor of Texas as a radical gun-toting secessionist, but seriously, this is the presidency, so you might want to tone it down a notch. With that in mind, we’re pretty sure that if he runs, there are all sorts of issues on which Perry will backtrack. But is same-sex marriage really one of them? The Economist thinks so:

I’ll be watching to see if Mr Perry offers any further thoughts on foreign policy, and whether he weighs in on national controversies that have thus far passed over Texas. One to watch: gay marriage. Mr Perry is against it, but there hasn’t been much of a debate over it in Texas, which has seen no serious effort to legalise same-sex marriage or civil unions. And it’s an issue where the Republican primary voters differ from the emerging national majority in favour. If Mr Perry is happy being the governor, or just a national opposition figure, he’ll stick to his guns on the subject. If he’s looking to be president, I would expect a slightly hedged view: he might say that there’s already a federal law on the subject, for example, but that as a supporter of states’ rights he recognises their right to differ.

For one thing, it’s a little misleading to say that same-sex marriage has “passed over” Texas or that “there hasn’t been much debate over it.” Perry was governor in 2005, when he not only supported but championed the state’s constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions. As Religion Dispatches noted recently, Perry even staged a ceremonial and totally unnecessary bill-signing ceremony for the amendment, with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association in attendance.

Does this really sound like a man who believes same-sex marriage should be left up to the states? Moreover, what would Perry have to gain in a GOP primary — or even in the general election – by softening his stance on same-sex marriage? Maybe the Economist should stick to reporting on British politics.

—  John Wright

Gov. Perry to weigh presidential bid

Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he will consider running for president after the Legislature adjourns.

Perry reportedly made the statement to reporters at the Capitol this morning. The media has been buzzing for weeks about a possible Perry presidential bid, but until today the governor has not made any indication that he would consider it.

If nothing else, assuming Perry does run, we look forward to finally seeing a a full and thorough investigation of those longstanding gay rumors.

Perry may not be gay. He may not even be bisexual. Who knows? But if he is gay, he certainly has the anti-LGBT cred you’d expect from a closet case. For more on his record on LGBT issues, let’s turn to an excerpt from my 2009 story about his primary against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison:

Paul Scott, executive director of Austin-based Equality Texas, said Perry’s only act in favor of LGBT equality in nine years as governor was signing the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act of 2001, which includes “sexual preference” instead of “sexual orientation.”

“I guess you could say that someone could be worse [on LGBT issues], because they could have opposed the Hate Crimes Act,” Scott said.

Neither Perry’s campaign nor the Governor’s Office responded to a request for an interview about LGBT issues.

According to news reports, Perry actually attempted to derail the Hate Crimes Act as it moved through the state Senate, but quickly signed it under political pressure once it reached his desk.

In 2003, Perry signed Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the recognition of civil unions and other same-sex relationships from out of state. And in 2005, he would become a vocal supporter of Proposition 2, Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Perry hosted a ceremony at a Fort Worth church to sign the resolution placing the amendment on the ballot even though his signature was not required, and he overtly used Prop 2 to try to build support among conservative evangelical voters in advance of his 2006 re-election campaign.

Perry once called Texas’ anti-sodomy statute “appropriate,” and, asked during the Prop 2 fight what he would tell gay and lesbian veterans returning from Iraq who wanted to wed, he said, “If there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas, then maybe that’s a better place for them to live.”

“He’s not known as a champion of LGBT rights in any way, form or fashion,” Scott said.

—  John Wright