SAN ANTONIO (AP) – In the words of Gov. Rick Perry, secession was one scenario on the table for frustrated Texans. The BP oil spill? Might have been an act of God instead of corporate errors. And if the Federal Reserve puts more money in the U.S. system, as Perry told voters in Iowa this week, you could chalk it up as a treasonous act that would be treated “pretty ugly” back home.
No, that wasn’t on the same level as his famous interview signoff, “Adios, mofo.” But Perry’s just warming up.
Just four days after launching his GOP presidential run, the man from Paint Creek, Texas, already is showing off a colorful tongue. The 61-year-old with maybe the most famous jogging-while-armed story ever — “Don’t attack my dog or you might get shot … if you’re a coyote” — may emerge as the most quotable candidate in the Republican field.
But will that hurt as well as help him?
The governor’s mouth may come across as amusing to some Texans who have grown accustomed to “Perryisms” over his decades in public office. Now, however, he’s on a larger stage with a brighter spotlight. Will his quips be a plus — something for voters to identify with — or a vulnerability in the campaign?
Obama said Tuesday he was inclined to cut the governor “some slack” since it was so early in his run. The president was asked on CNN about Perry’s suggestion that military members would respect the Texan more than him because Perry served in the military and he didn’t.
“I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn’t like running for governor or running for Senate or running for Congress,” Obama said. “You’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say.”
Not everyone was so understanding about Perry’s latest comments.
“Inappropriate and unpresidential,” tweeted Tony Fratto, a Republican who worked at the Treasury Department and in the White House under President George W. Bush.
That was his quick verdict after Perry said at a campaign appearance Monday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be committing a “treasonous” act if he decided to “print more money to boost the economy.” Perry said such action by the Fed would amount to a political maneuver aimed at helping President Barack Obama win re-election.
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” Perry said, responding to a question from the audience.
He stood by that comment later, telling reporters on Tuesday in Dubuque, Iowa: “I am just passionate about the issue, and we stand by what we said.”
On Monday, Perry also said he would be a president who was “passionate about America — that’s in love with America.” Asked whether he was suggesting that Obama didn’t love his country, Perry said, “You need to ask him.”
Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs hit back Tuesday.
“The statements that Perry makes are remarkable in that just two years ago, the governor of Texas openly talked about leading Texas out of the United States of America, and now this campaign has caused him to profess his love to the United States,” Gibbs said during an appearance on MSNBC.
Gibbs added, “Any day now Rick Perry will probably ask to see the president’s birth certificate,” planting the notion that Perry would stoke falsehoods that Obama was not born in the U.S.
Former President Bill Clinton put it another way this week, dismissing Perry as a “good looking rascal” whose policies are “crazy.”
Perry never advocated Texas actually would break away from the United States at a tea party rally in 2009, but he did suggest that Texans might get so fed up they’d want to secede at some point.
In the decade that Perry has served as the longest-running governor in Texas history, he’s had more than a few memorable remarks.
Following the BP oil spill last year, he used the term “act of God” to describe the disaster, then later defended the comment as a legal term to emphasize his point that nobody knew what happened. Ending a television interview in 2005 — he says he didn’t realize the station was still broadcasting — Perry famously shot a wry smile toward the camera and signed off with what became a Texas catchphrase: “Adios, mofo.”
His joke in June about an official whose name sounds like Jose Cuervo, a brand of tequila, being a perfect fit for the state’s alcohol and beverage commission fell flat to a ballroom of Hispanic lawmakers. When an American tourist was allegedly gunned down in Mexican waters last summer, Perry drew criticism for asking Mexican President Felipe Calderon to call him within 48 hours to say the body had been found, “or they’re not looking hard enough.”
Even Perry has acknowledged that some of his beliefs might be a bit out of the mainstream for a presidential run. As the polls closed on Election Day 2010, when Perry would be elected to a third full term, he told The Associated Press that the ideas laid out in his new book were proof that he couldn’t seek the White House. He called for scrapping Social Security in his book “Fed Up!” and compared the program to a Ponzi scheme. He’s suggested states would do a better job than the federal government managing Medicare.
“Because when you read this book, you’re going to see me talking about issues that for someone running for public office, it’s kind of been the third rail if you will,” Perry said last summer.
But political observers say that even when it looks as if Perry is veering off script, he knows how far to take it.
“I think there is a fire burning with the base of the GOP, and Rick Perry knows how to fan the flames,” said Mark McKinnon, a political consultant who advised George W. Bush’s campaigns. “The key will be to see whether he can keep the fire from burning out of control in the general election.”
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