We are not done with Rick Perry. While partisans hope there is a chance he will be held accountable for either blackmailing or bribing the district attorney in Austin and go to jail, there is just as much of a chance the Texas governor might end up in the White House.
Yeah, I know. But hang with me a minute.
Perry is winning the public relations battle. He has a battery of attorneys that are likely collectively billing around $3000 an hour, and they have positioned his indictment has nothing less than an attack on the foundations of democracy. He used his veto. So what? That’s what governors do, and to prosecute him for exercising his constitutional authority will have a chilling effect on the legislative process and governmental administration.
Of course, this is not about his use of the veto. Special prosecutor Michael McCrum claims there is extensive evidence to convict the governor for an abuse of his powers. If McCrum gets a chance, he will try to convince a jury that Perry first blackmailed the D.A. by telling her he would take away her office’s millions unless she resigned. This is one elected official using his office to try to force another elected official to leave her office. That’s where the law appears to be a problem for the governor, not the fact that he, eventually, carried out his threat and issued the budget veto.
When Rosemary Lehmberg refused, Perry tried another tactic. The second approach looks like a bit of bribery. There is alleged to be grand jury testimony that he sent emissaries to Lehmberg offering her considerations for her resignation. These were said to be more money and a better job within the government. Lehmberg again demurred, and Perry took away her office’s money and forced Travis County taxpayers to pick up the tab of running a state office.
But his legal and public relations team have kept up a constant chorus that this case is about the constitution, and because that is an easy concept for the public to process, Perry’s team is winning the perceptual fight. In fact, a group of Republican and Democratic attorneys and judges signed a petition asking the judge in Perry’s case to dismiss the charges because of their threat to the constitution. This is happening at the same time the presiding judge in the case has a motion before him to drop the charges because, Perry’s attorneys claim, the prosecutor did not sign the proper documents at the correct time.
How does this help Perry run for president?
Consider the largely conservative, anti-government voter turnout that just manifested at the mid-term elections. These are people who see Perry’s prosecution as an attack on a Republican governor who was simply doing his job. Every day the charges against the governor remain unresolved, he becomes more of a hero to that political constituency. Mid-term elections may tend to be more about the state level candidates and reactions to the president’s leadership, but they also often surface a political shift that can be leveraged in the next presidential cycle. The animated right that just sent a message to Mr. Obama and congress is the same voter group that will elevate Perry to near heroism for his alleged defense of the Texas constitution.
And Ted Cruz is not their answer to who makes the ideal nominee in 2016. The GOP wants the best possible candidate to take on what is likely to be the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the former Canadian Cruz has shown no indication he can build a broad base of support. He can exercise conservatives and raise money but the presidency is a job that is won by collecting votes just to the left and right of the center. No over-paid analyst on any of the cable networks would suggest that Cruz has ever uttered a word that would appeal to any moderates. He can call himself a constitutional conservative but the Texas senator is, by virtually any definition, a radical, who is more libertarian than Republican. Government is to pave the roads, protect the borders, and then get the hell out of our way.
That leaves Jeb Bush. (I dismiss the two Governors Walker and Chris Christie for reasons too detailed for this post.) The former Florida governor’s problems lie in the GOP primary process where Cruz excels. The people who vote in the Republican primaries are now the activists that hear music when Ted Cruz screeches. They will not vote nor raise money in meaningful ways for another Bush. Jeb, however, can raise the institutional money from corporations and wealthy donors, if he can convince them America is interested in another Bush president. The answer is a probable no. Regardless, Jeb is likely to have a fierce fight with Cruz through the primaries.
Jeb’s larger issue, though, is simply being another Bush running against another Clinton. This is a rerun that will be hard for many Americans to watch. However, there now seems little doubt Ms. Clinton will make a run for the presidency. Although she acknowledges having reached the point in her life where she’d like to spend time with her grandchild and work with her family’s foundation, Hillary Clinton cannot resist the pull of history, and its perceived obligations. We may be a generation distant from anything close to a female presidential candidate that will present the breadth of her resume’ and a favorable political climate. She is running. (I’d much prefer Elizabeth Warren, but she appears disinclined to run.)
Which brings us back to Mr. Three Things.
If he is convicted, Rick Perry faces up to 106 years in jail. But because America always has a problem with putting politicians behind bars, nobody would ever expect the governor to do time. Of course, if he’s a felon, he cannot even vote, which also eliminates running for president. If he is exonerated, however, or the charges are dropped, there stands the man in the glasses, longest-serving governor in the history of Texas, who stood up to those who would attack his constitutional powers, went to the border with guns and the National Guard when Washington said there were sufficient forces present; he gives himself credit for making Texas the fastest growing state and most vibrant economy in America, and he claims to have cut taxes. Rick Perry could become a very viable GOP presidential candidate.
Which is as hard to write, as it is to believe.