Perry makes history: Amid the excitement, there’s still that indictment

Mug shot art by SABO

Mug shot art by SABO

Good morning Austin:

Shortly after Rick Perry announced for president the first time around in August 2011,  Clay Risen of the New York Times wrote the following at the paper’s The Thread.

Consider the Rick Perry paradox: in a G.O.P. field notably bereft of experience in elected office, he has won nine back-to-back elections and spent the last decade as governor of America’s second-most-populous state. And, though the Thread has yet to see him in person, he is apparently the Red State equivalent of Kal-El. Or so says this rapturous lede from Politico:

It sounds like a political fairy tale: Months of campaigning by nearly a dozen candidates have left Republicans restless and worried. No one quite fits the bill. Less than six months remain before the primaries.

And then a superhero arrives.

He’s not just larger than life, he’s bigger than the Ames Straw Poll. His dramatic entrance alters the whole campaign. He swoops to the rescue and leaves everybody eating his dust.

This is the promise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his presidential candidacy here Saturday and stole the show from the straw poll 1,200 miles away.

He’s got good looks, charisma, experience. So how do you explain his penchant for comments that are, well, a bit out there? Ben Bernanke’s loose-money policy is “treasonous,” and Texans would “treat him pretty roughly” if he came to their state. Global warming is a hoax. Evolution is just an idea “out there.” Social Security is unconstitutional, and the 16th Amendment, which establishes the grounds for federal income taxes, should be repealed. Are these just the words of a newbie to the national stage? Or the future of the Republican Party?

James Fallows picks Door No. 1:

Just after Sarah Palin was nominated three years ago, I argued that anyone who moves all at once from state-level to national-level politics is going to be shocked by the greater intensity of the scrutiny and the broader range of expertise called for. Therefore that person is destined to make mistakes; the question is how bad they will be. For Palin, they showed up in her disastrous first few interviews, especially with Katie Couric. Perry is getting his own introduction to this principle just now.

No doubt Perry will learn to be a little savvier with his soundbites.

Well maybe not.

It’s not what were characterized by the Times as Perry’s fringe political ideas – which are now pretty much tea party mainstream – that ended up getting him in trouble last time. Rather it was a liberal outburst – suggesting to other Republican candidates, “I don’t think you have heart,” if you don’t support in-state tuition for students who, through no fault of their own, find themselves living in Texas illegally – and a heartrending moment of human failing when he couldn’t remember the name of the third federal agency that he wanted to eliminate, oops  – that doomed his candidacy.

Today in Addison, Texas, outside of Dallas, Rick Perry will announce for the second time that he is running for president.

This time he arrives not as Superman, but as Underdog.

He is, by every evidence, in better health – last time out he was recovering from back surgery – and intellectually far better prepared to run for president than he was four years. He is no longer governor so he can also devote himself wholly to the task.

But the field he entered four years ago was truly odd and thin and aching for a hero.

This year’s field, by contrast, is the largest and richest in the party’s history, replete with present and former governors and senators, and with no one begging for yet another choice.

According to the most recent Real Clear Politics polling average, right now Perry ranks tenth with 2.7 percent of the vote, behind former Florida Gov. Bush, Wisconsin Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, celebrity businessman Donald Trump, and then Perry, who is followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The good news for Perry is that the field is large and fluid. No one has a commanding lead. Bush and Walker generally top out at about 12 or 13 percent.

But the bad news for Perry is that the field is large and fluid and his special virtues  – leadership skills,  executive experience and likabilty, which could make him broadly acceptable – aren’t necessarily unique. What is unique to him, not just in this field but it seems in the annals of American history, is that he is the first major candidate for president running for president while under indictment.

He and his team have done a very good job of presenting that fact in its best light, and making it almost an afterthought, if that, in most of what is now written about Perry. But, the fact remains that he is under indictment back in Austin, with no resolution in sight.

From University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato:

I can’t think of any other serious presidential candidate who ran under indictment, certainly not in the modern era. John Edwards was indicted, but that was in 2011, three years after his 2008 candidacy. So Rick Perry is filling a unique niche.

Republicans almost universally see the indictment as political, so it shouldn’t much affect his run for the nomination. If he were actually to win the GOP nomination, and the indictment had not been resolved by the fall of 2016, the indictment would obviously be a drag on his campaign. But there are a couple of ‘ifs’ in there, and 530 days to go.

Mug shot art by SABO

Mug shot art by SABO

“I think it’s a first,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus,  author of The Institutional Effects of Executive Scandal.

Perry was indicted for abuse of power after threatening to veto funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg stepped down from office after her arrest for drunk driving and unseemly behavior at the time of her arrest.

While Perry initially played the indictment to his political advantage, over time, Rottinghaus said, it is nothing but an albatross. In a field as large as this, for almost any other claim Perry can make on a voter – his foreign policy hawkishness, his executive experience, his social conservatism – there is, Rottinghaus said, another candidate who can make that same claim and isn’t under indictment

 

 

“If I see a stack of resumes and one of them mentions `indictment’ I’m probably going to discard that one,” said Claremont McKenna political scientist Jack Pitney.

Pitney recalled that when former Texas Gov. John Connally ran for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, he sought to turn his 1975 bribery trial into an asset.

As columnist Jack Anderson wrote in February 1999:

Big John Connally, his Stetson dominating the other hats in the presidential ring, has sought to turn his bribery trial into an asset. With characteristic bluff, he has claimed that he is the only presidential contender who is “certified innocent” by a jury.

But, unlike Perry, Connally’s trial was years behind him when he ran, and, most importantly, he had been acquitted. Even then, it didn’t end well for him.

From the Handbook of Texas entry on Connally, a little background:

Connally switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 1973, three months after LBJ’s death. In the wake of the bribery-related resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in October 1973, Nixon passed word that he would name Connally to fill the vacancy. This would have put Connally in a strong position to run for president in 1976. Nixon and Connally had privately mused about starting a new Whig-type party in the tradition of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. But Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate erupted in a “firestorm of protest.” Warnings went up that if Nixon pursued the appointment, some powerful Senate Democrats “would be determined to destroy Connally.” This was during the height of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately forced Nixon to resign. Nixon named House minority leader Gerald Ford vice president but said that he intended to support Connally for the 1976 GOP nomination. In the aftermath, Connally rejoined Vinson and Elkins but soon confronted a criminal prosecution for alleged bribery and conspiracy in a “milk-price” scandal. He was acquitted after a trial in federal court.

Connally’s aborted effort to win the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1980 was short-lived. He was hurt in part by a “wheeler-dealer” identification reminiscent of LBJ, and a press criticism that he was a political “chameleon.” He was also damaged by a 1977 bank partnership he entered into with two Arab sheiks and an ill-advised or misunderstood speech he delivered to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 1979, that was interpreted as having anti-Semitic overtones. Connally raised and spent $11 million on the fourteen-month campaign but dropped out of the primaries, having gained the binding commitment of only one GOP convention delegate. He felt himself to be a victim of the Watergate scandal. After he lost his bid for the presidential nomination in 1980, he left politics and government.

“Any encounter with the criminal justice system is likely to be bad,” Pitney said. “Even if you totally go with his protestation of innocence, that’s fine, but it still remains a tremendous distraction for a candidate and raises electability issues. It’s hard to see how Rick Perry gets elected president.”

And, according to Texans for Public Justice, the Austin anti-corruption research and advocacy group that brought the complaint that led to Perry’s indictment, the case seems unlikely to resolve itself anytime soon. From a brief they issued timed to Perry’s announcement:

Perry’s legal troubles are likely to outlive his latest presidential campaign. Trial court Judge Richardson, who has since been elected to the state’s top criminal court ,already has dismissed three separate Perry motions to dismiss the indictments.

Perry has appealed Judge Richardson’s rulings to Texas’s 3rd Court of Appeals.

The case is assigned to a three judge panel. A member of that panel, Judge Bob Pemberton, is a Perry appointee who previously served as Gov. Perry’s general counsel.

Judge Pemberton so far has resisted calls to recuse himself from the case.

The appeals court has not yet set a date for oral arguments. Even if that court eventually dismisses the indictment, the state would likely appeal, initiating yet another time-consuming judicial clock.

Meanwhile, trial court preparations continue even as Perry’s appeals unfold.

Progress Texas presents "Perryhood."

Progress Texas presents “Perryhood.”

In other words, if Rick Perry is nominated for president, it will be a heroic comeback of historic proportions.

“He is hugely excellent retail campaigner. He loves people,” said Dave Carney , who was a top strategist to Perry’s last presidential campaign but is not involved this time. No one doubts that.

And, said Carney, “He has a great record that nobody can touch.”

That, of course, would be subject to partisan dispute. But for Republicans, there is no question that his stewardship of the largest red state is gold.

But Carney said it is the trash-talking nature of politics that wherever more than three Republicans gather somewhere in Iowa, someone will say something on the order of, too bad about Perry and that indictment.

Ultimately, Carney said, “I think activists don’t care about it.” Where it is most likely to hurt, he said, is with big-dollar Super PAC investors who may really like Perry but may be reluctant to throw a million dollars at a candidate with that big an asterisk next to his name.

“It’s not ideal,” said Ray Sullivan, co-chair of the pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom Super PAC. “But, so far we’ve gotten what we need and most political folks, almost regardless of party, believe the indictment will be tossed out, that’s it’s groundless and rather ridiculous. The question is when and that’s something. It is a road bump, but it is not yet an issue.”

 

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