Err, wait, is that… Rick Perry?
Exactly five months ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose cowboy swagger, Texas accent, and bumbling yet confident speeches are reminiscent of former Texas governor and president George W. Bush, stood in the Francis Marion Hotel and announced he was running for president of the United States.
Much has changed since those early August campaign days, but the Republican presidential candidate’s sweeping conservative message has not.
Gov. Perry spoke to a crowd of over 50 supporters and reporters Friday evening during a meet-and-greet at the Charleston Crab House on James Island, after which he walked around shaking hands and talking to people individually.
Perry was introduced by Mick Mulvaney, who represents South Carolina’s 5th congressional district and has been dubbed one of the top five most conservative members of Congress.
“We cannot afford to have our nominee for President say one thing on the campaign trail and then do another when they get to Washington,” Mulvaney said after the event while Perry mingled with folks eating in the adjacent dining room. He stressed the importance of Perry’s consistently conservative record to deal with issues such as defunding planned parenthood and increasing border security.
“Rick Perry has backed up his words with actions.”
The native Texan took his place behind the podium adorned with signs to a round of applause, but he quickly abandoned it and began pacing in front of the seated crowd, speaking to the audience in the friendly, charismatic manner that makes him so likable to people of all political stripes.
Although he didn’t mention Obama’s war on Christmas, Perry touched on all the major conservative hot buttons, even appealing to the old southern zeitgeist of secession and states’ rights by calling the federal government “oppressive” and praising South Carolina for its leadership in the years leading up to the American Civil War.
“If there hadn’t been a South Carolina, there wouldn’t be a Texas,” he said.
South Carolina has been a bastion of conservatism since its inception. With its primary the first of any southern state and the third earliest in the nation, the state is viewed as a proving ground for Republican presidential nominees. In fact, every Republican presidential nominee has won South Carolina since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The Perry campaign hopes he will go over well despite polling dead last in the Palmetto State, where his anti-federal and pro-military message resonates strongly. Perry’s main goal: “Make Washington inconsequential.”
“The federal government is supposed to do three things,” he said matter-of-factly. “Keep a standing military, secure and defend our borders, and deliver our mail, preferably on Saturday and on time.”
Perry called himself a Washington “outsider,” exactly the kind of person necessary to enact change in the tyrannical bureaucracy of the federal government.
“Earmarks are the gateway drug for the spending addiction in Washington D.C. They are nothing more than me scratching your back and you scratching mine with no conversation, no transparency.”
“I will use all the ink in South Carolina, all the ink in the country to veto these bills that come to my desk until they get the idea down there in Congress,” he said with gusto.
The Texas governor uniquely advocates a part-time Congress and told the audience that national senators and representatives should be “sent home to get a job and live under the laws that they pass.” He claims to support state over national authority in every aspect of government, save the military and border security, even telling the audience that medical marijuana should be in the hands of state legislators.
“If you want to move to a state with mandated health insurance, well, you can move to Massachusetts,” Perry said in a clear attack on Mitt Romney’s health care plan that drew laughter from the crowd.
Perry stressed the importance of military might, calling for a “new, modernized Monroe doctrine” to protect American interests from “threats” like Iran and Argentina. He also promised to secure the U.S.-Mexico border with a wall and thousands of National Guardsmen if elected.
“Our country is under assault by terrorists from south of that border. We know that Hezbollah and Hamas are using Mexico as an area of operation. We learned last year that there was an Iranian plot to come in through that border to assassinate a foreign diplomat.”
Although there have been some alleged monetary ties between Hezbollah and Mexican drug cartels, there have been no reports of the group actually setting up shop in Mexico. Nothing substantial linking Hamas to Mexico has been found at all, and most of the results of a Google search for “Hamas Mexico” are in reference to Perry’s own statements. Nonetheless, the governor stands by his strong stance on the border.
“We need a President who understands that you cannot have homeland security until you have border security.”
Gov. Perry went into some detail about his personal life, seeming to forge a bond with the audience while he described his childhood growing up in a house on a ranch with no running water. They were days he mainly filled with going to school, church and Boy Scouts, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout. He graduated from Texas A&M and later joined the Air Force, where he served as a tactical airlifter for five years.
One man got up and told Perry that he, too, was a veteran, and also a stalwart conservative. He was convinced that Perry was the most conservative of the candidates, but wondered how he could beat Mitt Romney in the primary election.
Indeed, how is it possible for a far-right candidate who is at the bottom of the polls in South Carolina – one of the most socially conservative states in the nation – to entice the all-important undecided voters into picking him as the potential Republican nominee for President? This is a valid question, and one the Perry campaign is probably asking itself all the time.
For now, Perry’s answer is simple: he is more of a true conservative than any of the other Republicans in the race, and has the record to prove it. Rep. Mulvaney agrees, saying that once people understand this, and see how he can light up a room with his fiery yet down-to-earth rhetoric and personable attitude, they will realize who their true candidate is.
It seems that some already have, including one man who may represent Perry’s last hope in the election.
“I found most appealing the fact that he knows where his strength comes from, that he doesn’t depend on himself,” the 71 year-old Charleston native said outside the Crab House, his van plastered with pro-gun, pro-religion, and anti-abortion bumper stickers. “He has a relationship with the Lord, like I have, and I find that we need a President that doesn’t think it’s all wrapped up in them, but knows that it’s wrapped up in God.”
Although Perry did leave the podium to a round of applause much more thunderous than when he arrived, it will take a lot more than impassioned speeches to recover what’s left of his campaign.
Perry’s run for president has been fraught with gaffes, including one now famous instance when he could only name two of the three federal government agencies he planned to cut during a nationally televised debate in November.
“I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see,” Perry said.
Mitt Romney tossed a suggestion Perry’s way by saying “EPA,” but Perry knew it wasn’t the right one and continued to think of the answer.
“The third agency of government I would — I would do away with, Education, the…,” Perry said.
Another person on stage volunteered Commerce.
“Commerce and, let’s see,” Perry said trying to think of the third agency. “I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Earlier this week, Perry seemed to have a similar “oops” moment. When asked to name and provide the number of federal departments he’d eliminate as president, he managed to list three, but they weren’t the three agencies he consistently names.
“Three right off the bat, you know, commerce, interior and energy are three that you think,” Perry said during a radio interview with Bill Edwards on WTKS Radio in Savannah.
Perry made no mention of the Department of Education, one of the agencies he consistently rails against. Regardless, voters on the right are oft willing to forgive mistakes like this one in favor of their greater goal: defeating President Obama.
South Carolina will more than likely be the final test for some of the candidates, and Saturday’s Town Hall meeting at the College of Charleston will give them some press time and a chance to snag undecided voters before the primary election on January 21. For Perry, it could either be the light at the end of the tunnel or the end of his campaign trail.