Rick Perry, the Moderate GOP Presidential Candidate?

Rick Perry, the Moderate GOP Presidential Candidate?
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Lately, we've noticed something different about former Gov. Rick Perry. He's been busy running for the 2016 GOP presidential nod, but it hasn't been the same old sprinting-to-the-right rhetoric of 2012. The perfect hair is still there but Perry is now sporting "smart guy" glasses and selling himself as something a little different. The Perry-for-President 2016 model is starting to sound like, well, a moderate. 

Understand that every presidential candidate has to come up with a bit, a little shorthand marketable version of their public persona that people can grasp with just a few words. Last time around, Perry tried to be the guy who would give the power back to the states. When he entered the 2012 race he made it clear with his very first statement that he was anti-federal government. "It is up to us ... to send a signal to Washington that we are taking the country back from the grips of central planners who would control our healthcare, spend our treasure and micro-manage our businesses," Perry said when announcing in 2011 that he was formally throwing his hat into the ring. We honestly expected more of the same with this campaign, but it's been hard to miss that the guy has been acting like someone who has views that aren't simply knee-jerk and far right. It started with a speech he made last Thursday. 

Just before the holiday weekend Perry gave a speech at the National Press Club. That in itself isn't that interesting — politicians running for president give speeches all the time to the point that it's only weird if they aren't trying to convince some audience that they're the obvious savior of the party — but Perry went and did something very different with this speech. Specifically, he dug in and started talking about how the GOP has failed black voters:

“For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found we didn’t need it to win. But when we gave up trying to win the support of African Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all,” Perry said, according to Buzzfeed. “It’s time for us once again to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African Americans.”

He went on to observe that the Republican party has been so focused on states rights and the 10th Amendment that they've forgotten they were once the party that championed the 14th Amendment (the one that provides a broad definition of citizenship and guarantees equal protection under the law). He even admitted that the federal government has an "important and legitimate role" in ensuring civil rights. This would be a, shall we say, interesting statement from anyone in the Republican party. But for the guy who spent his last years in the governor's mansion bucking against all things Washington D.C. and openly flirting with secessionist rhetoric whenever the mood struck him, it's downright shocking. This speech makes Perry sounds so reasonable and middle-of-the road and, well, moderate. 

Keep in mind, this is the same guy who, during his ill-fated bid to score the 2012 GOP nomination, compared Social Security to a "Ponzi scheme", called the president lazy, and infamously couldn't remember the name of the third branch of federal government he was going to cut if elected to the White House. As governor, he took plenty of "stands" against the federal government, which included rejecting Affordable Care Act  healthcare exchanges, a decision that left more than one million people under the federal poverty line without health insurance. He also refused to comply with the federal government's anti-prison rape law, because it he claimed it violates states' rights.

But his speech last Thursday was both a remarkably frank discussion about the racist past of Texas (he led off talking about the 1916 mutilation and lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco and he didn't flinch on the ugly details) and a criticism of the way Republicans have emphasized states' rights to the point that they've lost any chance of being a party that would appeal to African American voters. Of course, Perry talked about these failings as a lack of salesmanship on the part of the GOP. According to Perry this is an issue that could be solved if the Republicans just learn how to pitch to minority voters. MSNBC noted that this is actually a complicated problem and the solution most likely isn't that simple, but it was an unusual approach for Perry to take. 

Then, as if the speech wasn't enough, Perry took another half step toward the middle during his appearance Sunday on ABC's "This Week" with his remarks about fellow presidential wanna-be Donald Trump. In a speech last month Trump talked about how he was going to build a wall between Mexico and the United States to keep the Mexican criminals and "rapists" out of the country. The speech offended pretty much everyone there is and Perry was asked to comment on it. “Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party,” Perry said during his interview. “I was offended by his remarks.”

It's arguable that his Trump stance was just  a common-sense move — a bunch of other presidential contenders have also spoken out against Trump — but it's an interesting choice for Perry to make considering he alienated conservatives during his last campaign by simply saying he supported in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. So he's either decided to take a more relaxed approach during this campaign or he was so hopped up on pain pills for his back last time that he doesn't actually remember what happened, or maybe it's a little bit of both. 


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