Texas Governor and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has hardly left the national scene since he first launched his 2012 election campaign. As governor of one of the primary immigration concerned states, his opinion on the matter carries some weight in the seemingly interminable debate over policy and reform. With the abject failure of a funding bill for border security just before the August recess of Congress, Perry’s voice has been raised and clear over the matter. As 2016 presidential speculation runs rampant, it is well worth paying attention to the Texan’s words, not least because they sound a little odd considering the current tenor of the argument. It seems to some that Rick Perry has a new political sideshow to run.
Compared to 2012, anything from the Texan would be an improvement. His gaffes were not only horrible and campaign ruining, but they were unintentionally hilarious. A serious presidential candidate does not want to be funny by accident. Perry was so accident prone that even his record-breaking funding timeline could not save him from failure and a certain amount of humiliation. He lost the nomination, stayed governor, and began the long, arduous task of remaking himself. A new pair of glasses and no cowboy boots later, Perry seems like the vision of a new-made man.
It appears that his personality changes are not just skin deep, however. Perry’s stance on immigration is drawing a few raised eyebrows (though fewer eyebrows than his decision not to wear boots). As Congress went on summer vacation without passing a much-needed border security package, Rick Perry took to the mic in order to chastise his fellow Republicans. “It’s beyond belief,” he declaimed, “that Congress is abandoning its post while our border crisis continues to create humanitarian suffering, and criminal aliens still represent a clear threat to our citizens and our nation.” Hardly ever have such strong words been directed at the Republican led legislative branch by a man who did not have a D-for-Democrat initial somewhere near his name.
It looks as though Perry has changed from a partisan gunslinger into a steady statesman who is unafraid to lecture his own party on responsibility rather than support their unending efforts to oppose Obama on everything. Standing up for what is right has always been the Texas way, but Perry is leveling it in a new direction. Is this a good reason to make him the new party leader? Or possibly president? It is interesting to note that Perry could have made a much different statement. President Obama had already called the bill “extreme and unworkable,” saying point-blank that he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk. Perry could have attacked Obama for a lack of leadership, for yet another sign that he was playing extreme partisan politics, and lauded Republicans for sticking to their guns. But he did not do that, instead choosing to take the fight directly to Republicans themselves.
Criticising the Republican run Congress is easily done. It is hugely unpopular, with a mere seven percent approval rating, lower than the previously low record of 10%. Obama’s approval rating is much higher (something that is not hard to do), so it may be that Perry is simply kicking Congress while its down, a safer strategy than attacking someone popular. If that is the case, then he is showing far more strategic acumen than he did during his failed presidential campaign. It seems as though he may have learned from his previous failure.
Rick Perry is everything he can to cast himself as a responsible leader concerned with getting the job done in the new sideshow act that he has going right now. He has sent 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border in order to safeguard his citizens, who he maintains are in danger from illegal immigrants. “I’m the governor of the state of Texas,” he said. “My citizens’ safety is what is foremost here.” Apparently he cares more about people than he does the partisan bickering of the Congress. Or perhaps even his 2016 presidential hopes? Whatever his motivations may be, he seems intent on portraying the seriousness of the situation to observers, claiming that record numbers of illegal immigrants from states with terrorist ties are coming over the border, a key reason for sending in the National Guard. Incidentally, it is also a reason why his decision should make him look like a real leader.
Unfortunately for Perry, his self-scripted role fails to impress once the real facts are known. PolitiFact completely debunks his claim of “historic record highs” of potential terrorists coming over the Mexican border. Out of the percentage of immigrants categorized as from a place “other than Mexico,” less than five percent were from terrorist affiliated states. And that small percentage was also not a record high. It seems that Perry has used some manufactured fear and rage in order to make himself look better on the immigration issue. With that in mind, he looks less like a strong leader and more like Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Despite all his attempts to distance himself from the ineffectual and unpopular Republicans in Washington, Perry still does not seem to have changed very much. His stance on immigration is still well within the party line, which is strict and based on the fear of dangerous immigrants. Despite chastising the Congress for doing nothing, his own actions have only looked good. On closer examination, they are just as unreasonable as Congress’ lack of action. He has manufactured a situation in which he looks good and other Republicans look bad. Republicans really do look bad, but he also does not look that good when all the facts are on the table. The only fact he can claim represents a true change in the Rick Perry sideshow from 2012, then, is that he has started wearing glasses, which is the only real change he has made so far.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury