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Why Rick Perry could be our next president

I caution Democrats to not underestimate his ability to win elections — nor should they overestimate the electorate's ability to make rational decisions when it comes to voting.
REUTERS/Lee Celano
I caution Democrats to not underestimate his ability to win elections — nor should they overestimate the electorate’s ability to make rational decisions when it comes to voting.

Most of my progressive friends, and many liberal pundits, chortle and debase the thought of Texas Gov. Rick Perry becoming the Republican nominee for president in 2012 — and a potential winner. True, Perry carries lots of negative baggage into such a race. But I caution Democrats to not underestimate his ability to win elections — nor should they overestimate the electorate’s ability to make rational decisions when it comes to voting.

Perry’s “baggage” comes in many forms, but in summary, the best description comes from Texas author Jim Hightower, who has followed Perry’s career closely and for a long period. His opinion:

“Republicans get a two-fer with him. One, they get one of the furthest-out of the far-out tea party right-wingers, sort of a Michele Bachmann with better hair. And also, though, they get … the real Perry, which is the exuberant, corporate Republican who never met a corporate lobbyist he wouldn’t hug as long as that lobbyist had a campaign check and a wish list.”

Hightower added: “He really is kind of a George Bush plutocrat without the intelligence or the ethics… the real Perry, is really going to be [the] corporate Perry. That’s the kind of governorship he has run.” And, indeed, he has been continually cozy with the notable Koch brothers, and others of the same ilk.

Then there is his zealous religious activity, which could be a turnoff for many Americans. This includes strong and explicit views on gay and abortion rights, and his failed “pray for rain” gambit.

Proposes an end to Social Security
Other potential problems: Perry said in August that if Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke prints more money before the election it will be “almost treasonous.” In his book he proposes an end to Social Security (a position clearly an anathema to elderly Americans). His record as governor is filled with pitfalls. The state has a massive budget deficit and he had extreme difficulty getting a budget passed, even with control of both the state House and Senate. In areas of education, health care, percent of citizens in poverty, and a higher than average unemployment rate, Texas is lagging.

All of which should be fatal for a Perry run at the presidency. But it is not.

Why? One word: “jobs”!

Yes, that is what Perry will be peddling, based on his claim that in his 10 years as governor, Texas has created 1 million new jobs or about 40 percent of all jobs created in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Never mind that his state leads the country in low-wage jobs (about 10 percent are bottom minimum wage), that it has the highest percentage of workers without health insurance, and that Texas is among the 10 poorest states in the nation, according to the 2010 Census. Then there is the outrageous hypocrisy that many of these “new jobs” were actually Texas government employees, which outpaced private-sector growth by a huge margin (Washington Post, Aug 20).

Something to grasp onto
So given all that, why could Perry win? For several reasons. First, the 2012 election will be about jobs, and Perry has a story to tell in a simplistic way that lends itself to powerful sound bites. Second, he will have funding to promote his message. With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and Perry’s relationship with wealthy donors, he can dominate the media with his jobs promise. Third, he is a proven campaigner — incisive, audience-savvy, and an attractive package. Finally, the country is (and likely still will be) in an economic storm. Perry’s message will be a lifeboat for many, and something to grasp onto when sinking seems inevitable.

However, the added issue with Perry’s “lifeboat” is that his promise of jobs comes with a litany of right-wing extreme programs and dangerous policies that in reality, most Americans dislike and oppose.

We have seen such dynamics before in history. I am reluctant to mention them because the comparisons are onerous, and will be taken out of context. You can recall many of your own when citizens make desperate choices in turbulent times. The landscape of history is littered with promises of economic redemption, the turning out of a demonized government, railing against taxation, and simple solutions to complex problems. And the worst parts (and added reasons he can win) is that too often the public buys into this kind of promise.

Campaign’s power easily underestimated
The forces in the middle and left can very easily underestimate the power of this kind of campaign. That will be the Perry candidacy. That will be the Perry message. It can be an easy “sell.” And that is why Perry, despite all of his failings, baggage and missteps well could be our president in 2012.

Those who fear this will have to be vigilant, active and engaged if they are determined to prevent it from happening.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 09/01/2011 - 06:37 am.

    Thank you for this.
    Unfortunately, I keep seeing an image of Myles in a canoe, attempting to paddle it up stream. Or worse, as a King Sisyphus with that boulder, while Gov. Perry and his corporate buddies watch in comfortable chairs from the sidelines.

  2. Submitted by Douglas Shambo II on 09/01/2011 - 08:36 am.

    While I don’t underestimate the inability of a portion of the American electorate to actually look carefully and objectively at a candidate before they vote, the argument that somehow Gov. Perry is a job-creator is thin and easily overcome.

    How much do most of the jobs created in Texas during the Perry years pay something beyond minimum wage? Answer: Very few. How many of them resulted from the dramatic rise in oil prices? Answer: A large proportion of them.

    I don’t quibble with his ability to win elections. As I say, most Americans don’t seem to be able to compare what a candidate says they’ve accomplishes with what they’ve actually done. Sad, really…

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/01/2011 - 09:02 am.

    We can’t just talk about jobs. There are a lot of job out there that are dead end jobs the day you start. If you look behind Rick Perry’s claims you will find most to be low paying menial jobs. Texas has poor health care and a wild west justice system. None of which is what I want.

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/01/2011 - 09:40 am.

    Re Rolf…thanks, actually your canoe analogy is appropriate. I did go the BWCA for over 20 years, and at first did “paddle upstream”. I quickly learned I could have just as much enjoyment in nearby places, rather than beating my brains out traveling long distances (upstream). I carry that over to my commentaries. Que sera sera.

    To Douglas and Tom, sure your arguments carry weight (I made the same ones in my article). Unfortunately, we may be preaching to the choir. All that really matters is…….votes!

    2010 was a frightening example. If the Democratic voters (especially those less committed) do not go to the polls; and the hard core right gets their committed troops to the polls, watch out!

  5. Submitted by craig furguson on 09/01/2011 - 11:21 am.

    My mother was sold on Perry, until I sent her his comments on social security. Hopefully that will be enough of a weight around his neck to drag him down. We are going to have to cut, but I don’t think the rich should be immune to the types of hacking that will have to occur to right the ship.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/01/2011 - 11:23 am.

    We need not look beyond the Oval Office to see the embodiment of what Douglas is talking about in comment(#2): “As I say, most Americans don’t seem to be able to compare what a candidate says they’ve accomplishes (sic) with what they’ve actually done. Sad, really…”

    Obama was elected at a time when we felt, as a nation, that we needed to needed to elect an African-American President. Are we at the place that we need to elect a female President (Bachmann, Rodham-Clinton, Palin)? I don’t believe that we are.

    Considering for a moment the male contenders, which one would most likely be cast to play the President in a Hollywood film? It might seem like an odd question, but in our entertainment society, I think it is an important one to consider.

    My answers, Perry-certainly, Romney-maybe, Pawlenty-no. The polls would seem to agree with my casting preferences.

    Pawlenty never came off as presidential. Some thought he seem too nice, but when he got tough in his rhetoric with Bachmann, his numbers declined further. Americans could not picture him as President, and therefore he will not be.

  7. Submitted by Jeff Pricco on 09/01/2011 - 11:25 am.

    Expect a very targeted GOP campaign focusing on FL, NC, PA, IN, Iowa and CO…. with secondary emphasis on WI, NM and OH. the first 6 states are all very winnable for an anti candidate in 2012 and represent 90 electoral votes which would cause a 269-269 tie and throw the election to the GOP majority HR. PA might be a tough sell for Perry, but it did elect Rick Santorum. FL, NC, IN, Iowa, and Colorado could easily go GOP (as could NM and OH) …. that is why Perry or Romney could win in 2012. The rest of the states are likely to go the way they did in 2008.

  8. Submitted by scott gibson on 09/01/2011 - 11:48 am.

    Yes, Perry could become president. Voters make their choices on superficial and emotional levels much of the time. And Perry’s got great hair. If you think that’s a flippant comment, you need only look at the relative popularity of perceived physically attractive candidates vs those who are not. Sad, but true. Being attractive won’t win you an election, but being unattractive will most likely lose you one.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/01/2011 - 12:28 pm.

    It’s amusing and instructive that the same people who convinced America back in 2008 that it was wise to elect a man who had never led anything, accomplished anything, and spent half of his short senate career running for president, that an experienced executive who piloted a large state through our worst recession in history by attracting companies and jobs with sound principles on taxation, regulation and litigation, and a former air force pilot, should not at least be considered as his replacement.

    Face it. Whoever gets the GOP nomination will be the next president. Perry is the anti-Obama.

  10. Submitted by Tom Miller on 09/01/2011 - 12:29 pm.

    The simplest counter-argument against Perry’s jobs record is that fact that the grow was in government jobs, and that Perry will extend the program to the federal level.

    Perry creates government jobs.

  11. Submitted by Roy Everson on 09/01/2011 - 12:31 pm.

    … those boatloads of corporate cash won’t just go into pro-Perry ads. They sense a lot of people will be turned off by both candidates, so look for massive amounts ads messaging “how’s that hopey changey thing workin’ for ya” to sandbag the Dem turnout. I well remember how much I hoped, 32 years ago, that the Repubs would nominate the far-right ex-gov who said some outrageous things. Surely, I thought, the easiest pickings would be to run against the guy once known as Ronald Ray-gun Zap.

  12. Submitted by Susanna Patterson on 09/01/2011 - 02:04 pm.

    “…a Michele Bachmann with better hair” Better hair??? I just read something — I believe it was in the Huffington Post — about how many women are seeking “Bachmann hair” the same wome who used to want “Palin hair…”
    Seriously. Voters don’t pay attention to much beyond that, and Perry has all too good a chance of becoming our next — and perhaps our final President.

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/01/2011 - 03:20 pm.

    On the one hand, nominating a hard right conservative like Perry could lead to a crushing defeat that could really force the Republicans to have second thoughts about what one might call the know-nothing wing of the party.

    On the other hand, I would much rather have Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney governing the country than Obama. I simply won’t vote for someone who deals with evolution or climate change issues by pretending they’re not there. I want a Republican candidate who will tame the teapartiers, not egg them on.

  14. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 09/01/2011 - 04:38 pm.

    I know Myles Spicer believes his audience is Democrat insiders, and not voters. And from the looks of the comments on MinnPost, most of the commenters appear to be DFLers. However, if he intends to persuade the public to go with his candidate, it isn’t smart to call voters “irrational,” easily sold, desperate, and prone to be swayed by simplistic soundbites. His contempt for voters is hard to miss.

  15. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/01/2011 - 05:42 pm.

    “In his book he proposes an end to Social Security (a position clearly an anathema to elderly Americans).” The Right seems to have Mr. Spicer and many other sane people convinced that Social Security is “too expensive” and must be ended.

    The truth is that Social Security is 100% self-supporting and adds not one dime to the deficit. In 1983, when its actuaries completed their annual study of the coming 75 years, they saw that Social Security would need more revenue when the Baby Boomers began to retire in about 2010 or there would be a shortage. They raised very slightly the percentage of income withheld for SS and raised the earnings cap. Problem solved; NO shortfall.

    The next modest shortfall will be several decades from now and can be prevented just as easily. The problem now is right-wing politicians who hate the New Deal and want to kill it — and apparently older Americans along with it.

    Lee (#5). If your mother is on Social Security or is over 55, she’s probably furious on YOUR behalf as you would be the one to suffer if the Right wins this propaganda war. If they do, all the money you have contributed to this retirement plan since your very first job will go down the toilet and you will be told to “take responsibility’ for your own retirement (so as not to develop a “dependency” on government help, of course.)

  16. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 09/01/2011 - 08:38 pm.

    Republicans have been investing in bad education for years. They are now reaping the benefits.

  17. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/01/2011 - 08:39 pm.

    Perry does not have better hair than Mrs. Bachmann. He has shorter hair.

    Otherwise, I fear Mr. Spicer is largely correct.

    Obama has been a huge disappointment to a lot of points on the political spectrum, not just the far, far left, so I won’t be surprised if his support is much more lukewarm in 2012, assuming he chooses to run again. That may well translate to a Perry election if Perry’s long list of negatives doesn’t get a lot of publicity. DFLers, now is the time to start stockpiling the money for a virtually unending supply of negative TV ads, because that’s what it will probably take, and even then, Perry might win. If he does, it will likely be the worst choice American voters have made in at least a century.

    I’ve read – without having any way to check its accuracy – that the largest employer in Texas is Pizza Hut. If that’s the case, it tells us a lot about his “jobs” claims, and if he’s able to skate by without anyone noticing that Texas is essentially dysfunctional, with a huge deficit, lousy educational attainment, etc., Dave Porter (#16) may have a sensible survival strategy. A nuclear-armed United States run by religious crazies ought to frighten just about everyone who’s not among the crazies themselves.

    We should all be renting “Elmer Gantry” from Netflix and studying it closely.

  18. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/02/2011 - 07:52 am.

    “Republicans have been investing in bad education for years. They are now reaping the benefits.”

    While it’s true we’ve been paying for it, we haven’t been the ones designing and delivering it, now have we?

  19. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/02/2011 - 08:38 am.

    Ray (#18):

    I checked the list of 50 largest employers in Texas, and Pizza Hut did not make the cut, but we can continue to say it is the largest employer in Texas. It would make a great sound bite.

    The largest employer in Minnesota pays not taxes, because the largest employer is the state of Minnesota. It was formerly 3M.

    As I stated in comment #6, we have become an entertainment society. Which is why you wouldn’t recommend the reading of the classic Sinclair Lewis novel, instead you state, “We should all be renting “Elmer Gantry” from Netflix”.

  20. Submitted by Brian Nelson on 09/02/2011 - 08:38 am.

    Denny Tester, you always make for good comedy. The “accountability” through No Child Left Behind was the signature Bush achievement and was put into place by his Sec. of Education.

    Own it, Denny, own it.

    As for your love affair with Perry–he creates gubbermint jobs! Private sector jobs actually fell while public jobs rose by over 6%. The unempoyment rate is high (compared to Massachusetts 4.8%) and there is a high rate of uninsured, who largely work menial jobs.

    lastly, bringing in “other” jobs from surrounding states does nothing for our unemployment rate. Why you would consider that a good thing, one can only wonder.

  21. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/02/2011 - 09:16 am.

    Couple of modest comments in my defense.

    Rosalind #14, to deny that voters are often (not always) poorly informed…vote based of simplistic sound bites in our nedia dominated society…and very frequently vote against their own interests is frankly naive. It happens in many elections. The 2010 election is a good example. Only 41% of the electorate turned out; assuming half were Dems, only 20% voted for the GOP; and of that amount only a portion were Tea Partiers — yet they gained complete control of the House!

    #15 Bernice. I have no idea where you were able to conclude the “the right convinced me that Social Security is too expensive”. Bernice, I am fully aware that it is NOT; and indeed, it is not really an entitlement program, but rather an INSURANCE program that we pay into and benefit from as we age or the need emerges.

    #20, Steve. Yes in Minnesota the government MIGHT be the largest employer, but moore relevant to the article, in Texas the government IS positively the largest employer (Perry hired 18,000)– plus it is packed with Federal government facilities. That, plus new hires in the energy business account for a lot of Perry’s apparent “success”

  22. Submitted by Marcia Brekke on 09/02/2011 - 10:39 am.

    I know that individual stories don’t predict the future, but here’s one that did. A friend’s mom seldom voted, but when Jesse Ventura ran for governor, she giggled, “Wouldn’t it be FUN to have Jesse for governor? I’m going to encourage all my friends to vote for him.” Apparently she did. I remember, too, being amazed at the turnout of young people that year who might have had that same idea. So much for informed voters.

  23. Submitted by Marcia Brekke on 09/02/2011 - 10:42 am.

    I meant to add that we were relatively lucky with Ventura as governor (though lots of people may disagree with me) because he chose his advisers well, and the state came through quite unscathed. Not likely with a Perry presidency(gasp!).

  24. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/02/2011 - 11:00 am.

    Sorry, Mr. Spicer! What I meant to say was that current seniors aren’t the ones that will be hurt by the changes the Right wants, but that you seemed (to me) not to realize that.

  25. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/02/2011 - 01:27 pm.


    I did not challenge your description of Texas employment, but merely added the reference that the state government IS the largest employer in Minnesota.

    My comment drew a response, but you are accepting the Pizza Hutt comment?

    Why the resurgence in interest in Elmer Gantry? I have seen these references popping up. I suspect that they originated on one of the liberal talking points alerts, to which I am not yet a subscriber. As a character of classic literature, it may not get a lot of traction with younger voters, the ones that need to be feed information by Netflix. Perhaps, a pop culture icon would be more effective. A good question for a focus group.

  26. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/02/2011 - 02:05 pm.

    Yes, Bernice, and that brings up an interesting point (I did write an op-ed on this subject).

    I am very proud of today’s seniors, because the led the fight against the Ryan plan even though (as you point out) it was not them who was affected.

    If I wanted to be cynical, I would say they did it out of fear that they might be next; but to be altruistic, I prefer to think they went to bat for the generation behind them.

    And that’s the way it should be — not unlike the union workers who go on strike at risk and expense to themselves, to bring a better life to those behind them.

    At any rate, it is today’s seniors who scuttled the Ryan plan…and the Republicans knew they are active voters.

  27. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/02/2011 - 03:21 pm.


    Sure, I will easily accept your Pizza Hut comment.

    Did you check out Dominos? Maybe Taco Bell?

    Re Elmer Gantry, as I recall that sly silver-tongued orator didn’t pay taxes anyway, and was totally unregulated. He would have thrived in the Tea Party.

    As an aside, it was one the great movies of all time, and Burt Lancaster was an acting gem.

  28. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/02/2011 - 07:47 pm.


    Read comment #18. Ray made the Pizza Hut comment, not me. While calling out the commenters with whom you disagreed, by omission, you agreed with Ray. I checked the top 50 employers in Texas, and none of them serve fast food. However, it supports the agenda, and accuracy is merely a causualty of war.

    The movie, Elmer Gantry, was released in 1960, with a screenplay written with 1950s sensibilities. The movie was not able to track the book accurately. I suggest you read the book.

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