The great Texas Republican Feud
Rick Perry vs. George W. Bush: No love lost here
It's not a new tactic for politicians to make political hay by blaming the guy in office before them. But that strategy is a little more complicated when the politician is Rick Perry and the guy whose office he took is not only a member of his party but was also president for eight years.
As The New York Times notes in a Wednesday story, Perry's ties with the Bushes are a liability for his presidential aspirations despite the former president's continued popularity among Republicans. As a result Perry has become increasingly bold in distancing himself from the policies of his predecessor and exposing the cracks in the Texas conservative monolith in the process:
On government spending, immigration and education, Mr. Perry’s criticisms of Mr. Bush have given him cachet with conservatives, especially with Tea Party voters who blame the former president for allowing spending and the reach of government to grow rapidly.
Those criticisms have burnished the Perry image as less prone to ideological compromise or a fuzzy 'compassionate' brand of conservatism, an appealing trait to those Republican primary voters seeking purity in their nominee. And they have helped Mr. Perry escape the shadow of Mr. Bush, whose sponsorship, along with that of his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, was critical to Mr. Perry’s rise."
It's been more or less common knowledge among the conservative faithful that there's been no love lost between Perry and the Bush clan ever since H.W. and his associates supported Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor in the 2008 Republican primary.
And when Rick Perry and his boots of justice nabbed the cover of the April 4 issue of conservative weekly The National Review, Perry didn't pull his punches. Painting Perry as a true conservative and fan of the 10th Amendment (that's the one that delegates power to the states), the article notes his résumé is tarnished by his less-than-popular predecessor:
'If Jeb Bush’s name were Jeb Smith, he’d be the next president of the United States,' Perry says, and then there’s a long pause in the conversation to let pass the unspoken corollary: 'And if Rick Perry were the governor of Florida …'"
It's not just Perry who's angry, either. After all, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush not-so-subtly signaled their distaste for Perry's brand of politics in 2010 by endorsing Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor in the Republican primary. But the feud between the two goes deeper. According to author Kevin Williamson, "Rick Perry has a complicated relationship with the Bushes, which is to say that he's hesitant to criticize them and they hate his guts."
One longtime observer of Lone Star politics described the Bushes' disdain of Perry as 'visceral,' and it is not too terribly hard to see why. The guy that NPR executives and The New York Times and your average Subaru-driving Whole Foods shopper were afraid George W. Bush was? Rick Perry is that guy. George W. Bush was Midland by way of Kennebunkport. Rick Perry's people are cotton farmers from Paint Creek, a West Texas town so tiny and remote that my Texan traveling-salesman father looked at me skeptically and suggested I had the name wrong when I asked him whether he knew where it was."
Of course, there's a thin line between distancing yourself from a powerful political family and putting yourself in their cross hairs. "If you’re really trying to be the nominee and want to go the distance, you just don’t want the former president of the United States and his people working against you,” the Times quotes an anonymous source as saying.
Only time can tell if Rick Perry can walk that line all the way to the White House.