What Rick Perry Will Do Next

Posted in: Featured | By: | October 09, 2011

The people who manage Rick Perry’s communications are really, really bad. Because of their aggregate incompetence, Perry is digging out of a policy hole that makes him look like that hiker in the Utah badlands who had to saw off his arm to survive. Perry has the same challenge.

His communications team is headed up by Ray Sullivan, who has become a millionaire by being Perry’s chief of staff. And then a lobbyist. And then Perry’s chief of staff. And then a lobbyist. Sullivan has rotated back and forth between working for Perry and lobbying for corporations that want Perry’s favor. His wife has also been made wealthy from her association with the governor. Unfortunately for Perry’s attempt at the White House, Sullivan and his entire staff have spent the past ten years practicing media avoidance. Perry was consistently unavailable when reporters wanted to ask him about anything controversial and Sullivan has passed twenty years in the capitol offering little more than a grunt or two word responses even in conversations with friends. He is cryptic enough to pass for a former CIA agent, which is a counter-intuitive skill when your boss is trying to effectively tell his story.

It’s also how Sullivan helped Perry screw up the immigration tuition issue.

There was a politically safe answer to why Rick Perry offered tuition “subsidies” to the children of illegal immigrants: They aren’t subsidies. Why this obvious response did not occur to Perry’s team is unknown but it would have avoided the hit he has taken in the polls. The children of illegal immigrants are required to live in Texas for three years, be in pursuit of US citizenship, and graduate from a Texas high school, before they qualify for in-state tuition rates. This is a daunting standard for young people who are in a locale as a consequence of their parents’ decisions. This is not a subsidy. In fact, if you move to Texas from another state and don’t want to pay out of state tuition rates, you only need to spend one year establishing domicile by getting a Texas driver’s license, paying taxes, and getting a Texas address. Perry has made it tougher on the offspring of undocumented immigrants. Too bad for him his communications team and Ray Sullivan don’t know how to offer that clarification to reporters.

Perry’s immediate challenge, though, as the New Hampshire debate looms is to find some way to mitigate that political anger over his tuition “subsidy.” He will do this in the debate at Dartmouth College by talking about how he has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on border security. Much of it was wasted, sure, and there were a few corrupt law enforcement officials involved, but Perry has slopped a lot of Texas taxpayer money in the direction of the border security hogs. He has called for strategic fencing and installed a series of cameras and wants to run up the numbers of national guard, border patrol, customs, and every other type of agent who can draw a paycheck to protect the frontier with Mexico.

And he wants you to know.

Politics is not complicated. By arguing that he has been tough on the border and has sent resources there Perry can mitigate damage done by his tuition subsidy problems. If you provide resources to clamp down in illegal immigration, you have no issues with needing to provide reasonable and humane treatment of the people who crossed the border illegally and then had a child. They aren’t here because they couldn’t cross the border. Shut down the border and you shut down discussions about tuition. Perry is going to be talking a great deal in coming weeks about everything he has done to prevent illegal immigration and drug smuggling along the border. Unfortunately, his hometown paper, the Austin American-Statesman is running a special report right now on how even the Texas capitol city has become a staging point for the trans-shipment of cocaine and methamphetamines from Mexico to US cities. A major drug cartel has moved into Austin from the mountains of Mexico. The border still has security issues.

No matter what the question might be that Rick Perry gets asked on Tuesday night on the campus of Dartmouth College, his answer will be about either how he has stomped down on the Texas-Mexico border and how he has been governor of a state with a growing economy. He has to fix his communications problem regarding tuition subsidies and begin to turn his discussion in the direction of all things economic. He could be asked about the relationship between gravity and hemorrhoids Tuesday and he would end up with a long rant about how nobody has dealt with the border more than him and how Texas has been adding jobs while the rest of the nation has been losing paid positions.

He’s also not going to denounce the Dallas pastor who called Mormonism a cult. If asked, Perry will talk about his own faith and how it has informed his life and its direction. Perry’s religion was never a topic when he arrived in Austin in 1985 nor did it have anything to do with his legislation or the partying he did with lobbyists and fellow legislators. But like George W. Bush, Rick Perry has had his fun and now he wants everyone to not have theirs and turn to his god. There are likely to be more Perry surrogates and evangelicals that work to keep alive the matter of Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith as a news topic but Perry will judiciously avoid it, even though he does not believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a part of Christendom. He’ll just keep rambling about his own faith and let his Christian cronies denounce Romney’s spiritual beliefs. The idea of the angel Moroni delivering golden tablets to Joseph Smith is apparently considerably less believable than the notion that a dead man rose, moved a giant rock, and slipped heavenward to be with god.

The hypocrisies of Perry’s campaign have yet to do him great harm. Before he had planned to participate in the Houston prayer rally last summer, reporter Gary Scharrer of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News had acquired the governor’s tax returns. They indicated that Rick Perry was not exactly generous with giving to his church even though he had, in one annual filing, earned a million dollars. One year Perry gave nothing even as his income soared with sweetheart land deals. When Scharrer contacted Perry’s office for a comment, he was told by Sullivan’s staffer Mark Miner that, “Governor Perry never talks publicly about his faith.” Yeah, well, except when he wants to fill a stadium full of people to hear just how Christian he is and how humble he is as a man.

Perry isn’t really worried and neither is his strategist Dave Carney. They know that the evangelicals who cannot handle Mormonism, and are upset with Perry over immigration, have nowhere else to turn other than the Texas governor. Right now they are dating other people. They will not go to Herman Cain and have already left Michelle Bachman, have not looked at Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Gary Johnson, and don’t have sense enough to see that either Jon Huntsman or Romney represent the most rational mainstream approach to governance before the GOP. But those voters aren’t worried about the economy as much as they are the threat of two people of the same sex loving each other and pregnant women getting abortions because they aren’t ready for children. Rick Perry frets about those things, too, and they will remember him for that and forgive and forget his tuition problem. And he will rise again.

Rick Perry is about to become the Comeback Kid.

1 Comment for this entry:

  • Thomas Britt

    Jim,
    Great analysis of Ricky Perry. The guy is 1/2″ deep and 5 miles wide. we need to see you on the national stage more.
    TB

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