The following editorial appeared in Friday’s Washington Post:
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the Republican presidential race on Thursday, arguing that his record running one of the largest states shows he would be a steady hand in the Oval Office.
“This will be a ‘show me, don’t tell me' election, where voters look past the rhetoric to the real record,” Perry said in his announcement speech. “I have been tested. I have led the most successful state in America.”
Perry is not seen as a top-tier candidate, in part because he is under indictment and in part because of embarrassing gaffes during his disastrous 2012 campaign. These sideshow issues miss the point. Voters should evaluate him on the terms he suggests – on real measures of his judgment.
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Perry’s indictment is plainly unfair, and the case against him should be dropped. The gaffes and poor preparation that contributed to his 2012 collapse, meanwhile, may have been linked to the back surgery he underwent shortly before campaigning.
That’s not to say Perry regrets the populist swagger that infused his last run. He approached the stage Thursday accompanied by a country-rap song about gun rights and protecting the border. He followed that up by stressing his rural roots and delivering a lot of red-meat anti-government rhetoric, eliciting hoots and hollers from his rowdy audience outside Dallas. “We need to return power to the states and freedom to the individual,” he declared, curiously attacking both Wall Street and regulations meant to check Wall Street.
And what of his record? One of the few candidates to have served in the armed forces, Perry aligns strongly with the hawkish wing of the GOP. But his political career has focused on Texas, and the former governor touts the job creation over his 14 years in the governor’s mansion, attributing it to “a simple formula” of low taxes and light regulation. Texas’s jobs growth rate has been significantly higher than the national average over the past decade and a half, and the state’s economy has become less dependent on oil and gas. Yet the energy sector remains a major determinant of Texas’s fate; the numbers may look less impressive as sagging oil prices undercut the country’s recent energy boom.
Perry’s “simple formula” also included fighting several counterproductive ideological wars that have hurt Texans. His battles against Environmental Protection Agency clean-air rules were as extreme as they were unsuccessful. Even though Texas had the nation’s highest uninsured rate at the outset of health-care reform, he rejected federal funds to expand its Medicaid program, irrationally leaving a pile of money on the table and low-income residents with few or no real coverage options. Perry’s deployment of the Texas National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border was simple grandstanding on immigration.
Perry can fairly claim more executive experience than many of his rivals. That comes with a downside: He can be held to his record as much as he can boast of it.