Texas Governor Rick Perry has been in politics for over thirty years. He has been in the Texas assembly, a two term agricultural commissioner, the Lt. Governor for two years and the Governor for ten. In terms of establishment it does not get more establishment than that. But Perry is unique in that he is establishment without being establishment. What I mean by that is that Perry, despite being a career politican does not belong in establishment circles. He shoots from the hip, he takes joy in in Texas twange and takes potshots at the media and pundits when he can. This has endeared him to the voters of Texas.
So how is Perry establishment without really being so and will it help him in 2012? To answer the first we must compare Perry’s life and actions with the ultimate establishment in Texas, the Bushes. Specifically, George W. Bush. Then I will analyze the repercussions this will have for the 2012 race.
Perry’s beginning was very, very modest. He gew up in Pain Creek, TX, not far from Abilene Texas. His family scraped and saved as ranchers. When Perry attended Texas A&M it was on his dime. His family had little money to give to him. Perry worked an assortment of jobs until his interest in politics was kickstarted back in the 60s. Contrast that with G.W. Born in New Haven Connecticut, Bush’s family had to scrape for little. Well established, the family had deep ties and pockets in the oil fields of Texas. When Bush went to Yale and then the Harvard School of Business his family paid for it.
Early life aside, the different political tracks each took also explains how Perry is so non-establishment/establishment. G.W. got his start in politics through his family. Following a defeat in a 1974 congressional race Bush returned to the oil fields of Texas. In 1988 he was given a highly coveted campaign advisor. In 92 he became a major campaign manager for his dad. In 1995 when Bush first ran for Governor he biggest claim to fame was not winning the nomination, he faced no-name opponents and was flush with cash, but the fact he beat Democratic Governor (popular at the time) Ann Richards. In 1999 Bush easily won reelection as Governor while actually almost letting Perry lose. This would breed animosity between the two camps that has lasted well over a decade.
Contrast this with Perry’s political road. Perry ran as a Democrat in 1984 for the state legislature. Easily winning Perry ran until 1990 as a Democrat. Sensing the shifting partisan winds in the state and wanting to face an incumbent agricultural commissioner Perry switched to a Republican. Receiving little outside help Perry won the race, surprising many. But Perry’s greatest claim to being anti-establishment began in 1998. When Democratic Lt. Governor Bob Bullock died the GOP nominated him as their candidate. Facing a well known two term State Comptroller Perry’s campaign reached out to the Bush campaign. It was rejected. Reportedly the Bush campaign did not want to get involved in the close Lt. Governor’s race and focus solely on racking up a big win in their race. Thus making Bush look more attractive for the presidency.
This rift has lasted long into Perry’s tenure. As Governor Perry has riled the feathers of the Texas establishment several times. His hardline stances on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and immigration early in his career set him apart from many in the state GOP. In 2009 the rift between Perry and the Bushes became full blown. Perry had avoided a 2002 primary challenge by then Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson for his first full term as Governor if he agreed to serve only two terms as Governor. In 2009 he broke that promise and announced his intention to run for reelection. This sparked outrage among the Bushs circle and Hutchinson entered the race anyways. She subsequently lost the primary by a wide margin and Perry even avoided a run-off.
This split between him and the estabishment has lasted even after 2010. When Perry hinted he was exploring a run for Governor former Bush advisors and staffers either completely ignored it or laid out groundwork in the media for a narrative on the Governor. Less then a week after Perry announced, speaking to a crowd in Iowa, the Governor called what the Fed is doing under Ben Bernanke, “treacherous, treasonous.” Major Bush advisors such as Karl Rove hit him for sounding so unpresidential.
But in the final analysis this is what helps Perry so much. In his thirty odd years in political office Perry would appear to be the ultimate politican. An ambitious, charismatic, rha rha speaker that can excite crowds and get votes. True, he is. But the other facet of his candidacy is that Perry has had a running fued with the Texas GOP establishment. And by default, with a former Governor from Texas being in the WH from 2000-08 the Texas GOP establishment became national.
Perry has tried very hard to cultivate anti-DC and anti-status quo support. He was among one of the first to court Tea Party support and won his 2010 primary campaign in Texas largely on these grounds. This deflected criticism of some controversial actions Perry took as Governor. But now Perry is going national and that means a whole new level of scrutiny from a multitude of new GOP voters. Some our favorable to the establishment, others are not.
Perry’s establishment/not establishment credentials help him in the final analysis. They give him the ability to reach two distinct kinds of voters. The establishment Republican who is more Republican then ideological. And the conservative,libertarian, etc. who is fed up with DC, politicans and business as ususal. Even considering the fact Perry has dozens of former Bush surrogates, most notably “The Rove,” running around bashing him he is still in better shape then if he was easy to categorize. Rick Perry, establishment, but not.