Texas Gov. Rick Perry Like 'George W. Bush on Steroids'

A charming image, courtesy of Times contributing writer Robert Draper, on Texas's Republican governor, Rick Perry: "...in his ostrich-skin cowboy boots with popcorn tumbling down his shirt while talking up Sam Houston and Christianity and oozing sufficient levels of testosterone to detonate a Geiger counter, Rick Perry was doing a fine impression of George W. Bush on steroids."

"It's Just a Texas-Governor Thing" is a 4,800-word Sunday magazine story on the state of the Texas GOP by Robert Draper, author of "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush".

Draper's focus is on the Campaign 2010 battle of Gov. Rick Perry, who is facing a primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. "Colorful" details, Texas cliches, and a condescending tone dominate:

In the past 12 months, Perry has endorsed "Choose Life" license plates as an option for Texans, hinted that his state might do well to secede from the Union, replaced commissioners who were about to review whether he allowed the execution of an innocent man and charged that President Barack Obama is "hellbent on taking America toward a socialist country." And today, in his ostrich-skin cowboy boots with popcorn tumbling down his shirt while talking up Sam Houston and Christianity and oozing sufficient levels of testosterone to detonate a Geiger counter, Rick Perry was doing a fine impression of George W. Bush on steroids. But he was also revealing their acute differences. That crack about losing your soul by running for the presidency was one of Perry's incessant stabs at all-corrupting Washington - the kind of thing a member of the Bush political dynasty would never say. More revealing, though, was his passing suggestion that Texas had acquired its sophistication only in the last decade, that is, during Perry's tenure as governor (which began when the lieutenant governor ascended to complete Bush's unexpired term in December 2000). This, of course, is not only an audacious claim but also an implicit swipe at his predecessor.

Perry's opponent in the Republican gubernatorial primary on March 2, 2010, as he seeks a record third full term, isn't Bush, obviously, but rather the state's senior U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Nonetheless, as the ex-president spends his retirement giving speeches and scribbling his now-nearly-completed memoirs in Dallas, his ghost hovers over the Texas governor's race in ways that aren't immediately obvious. The George W. Bush who was governor was a consummate "uniter-not-a-divider," and there remain many Texans who fondly recall that model and blame Perry - a big-business booster and social conservative whom Paul Burka, the respected Texas Monthly political commentator, recently described as being "more about politics and ideology than governing" - for its disappearance. The temperamental basis of Hutchison's campaign is that, unlike her "arrogant" opponent, she will restore comity to governance and thereby make the ever-shrinking Republican Party more attractive to moderates.

That's the "ever-shrinking" Republican Party that just won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia..

Today's Super-America looks a bit different. Its Hispanic population is both the state's fastest-growing and its most impoverished. Texas' high-school graduation rate is among the nation's lowest, and its percentage of residents who lack health insurance is the highest. And as The Austin American-Statesman recently reported, "More government money has been spent on the cause of sexual abstinence in Texas than any other state, but it still has the third-highest teen birth rate in the country and the highest percentage of teen mothers giving birth more than once."

Still, the Texas proclivity for what Tocqueville termed America's "irritable patriotism" continues to thrive. Though any election is invariably a referendum on the incumbent, criticizing Rick Perry's performance in a way that can be construed as speaking negatively of Texas is no way for Hutchison to earn votes. Unsurprisingly, then, a favorite Perry campaign tactic has been to frame the senator's harsh rhetoric as tantamount to "tearing down Texas" or "insulting to countless Republicans who have worked tirelessly to make our state the envy of the nation."


To Perry, the matter of states' rights - for generations a tool used by previous Southern governors to institutionalize injustices against African-Americans - has gained new salience with the advent of trillion-dollar deficits and increasing federal intervention into the private sector. But when I asked him why he was not vocal during the Bush years of ballooning budgets and federal activism, he grinned sheepishly and replied, "A timid soul, is all I can say." He added, with not much conviction: "I did talk about it. I may not have gotten quite the - I talked to people about it."

Ignoring evidence from the 2009 governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia, Draper concluded with the suggestion the GOP was doomed unless it focuses on Hispanic issues (which may include amnesty for illegals, a theme the Times has been raising for the last three years):

A more vexing puzzle is whether either candidate offers a winning road map for the state's Republican Party. Four years ago, Texas joined Hawaii, New Mexico and California as "majority-minority states," with 50.2 percent of its 22.5 million residents belonging to minority groups. Today, 30 percent of all Texans speak Spanish at home. Though Perry has appointed a Latina to the Texas Supreme Court and Hutchison expressed to me her concern that "we have not done enough to bring Hispanics in who have the same basic values that Republicans do," neither candidate spoke directly about Hispanic issues when I followed each of them. When I observed to one of Bush's top advisers that the candidates seemed to be ignoring the state's changing demographics while instead targeting the G.O.P. base, the response was one of palpable disgust: "Amazing, isn't it? And the Hispanic vote is gettable - that's the frustrating thing about it. Perry will probably benefit by that strategy in the short term. But I think the long-term consequences are stark."

Dick Armey is among the handful of Texas Republicans who see little harm in next March's contest. "When I first came to Texas in 1967," he told me, "the only race you had was primaries between Democrats. They managed to cope with it emotionally." Still, the question that awaits an answer is not whether the Texas G.O.P. will emerge from next March's alley fight with a smile on its face, but whether it will be any wiser for the experience.