Skip to main content

Perry's hiding record behind angry rhetoric

By Maria Cardona, Special to CNN
  • Maria Cardona says Rick Perry has campaigned with strong language, violent imagery
  • She says this tack will alienate mainstream voters. Is he trying to distract from his record?
  • She says he is greatly misrepresenting "Texas Miracle" on jobs, education, economy
  • Cardona: He must find way to please conservatives without driving away centrists

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and former communications director to the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to be the next president of the United States. He announced his candidacy on Saturday and has since campaigned like an angry bull cornered by a Matador, no-holds barred--even going so far as to seem to threaten bodily harm to the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke. This approach may help win him the nomination, but it also will help lose him the White House.

Perry said at a campaign stop that they would treat Chairman Bernanke "pretty ugly down in Texas" if the Fed decided to implement a specific policy called quantitative easing, which means the government puts more money into circulation. Putting the policy itself aside, this kind of talk is exactly what voters think is wrong with Washington.

The firebrand technique may endear him to the tea party faithful, but it will alienate him from the critical voting bloc made up of sensible, rational, moderate, mainstream independent and even Republican voters put off by the extreme right-wing factions of their party. To listen to Rick Perry and his supporters you might not think he'd need the scorched-earth rhetoric. After all, his boast that as Texas governor he has created many jobs in Texas, in addition to his other accomplishments should be enough to catapult him into frontrunner status.

And is it so important to Perry to try to out-Michele-Bachmann Michele Bachmann, and wrest from her the mantle of "tea party frontrunner," which is exactly what his inflammatory comments are designed to do? And how to explain his hard-right tack, aimed at making him the darling of the conservative movement, bar none? It speaks volumes when one GOP candidate says or does something that makes the rest of this field look almost reasonable.

Moore: A tale of two Texans

Gov. Perry responds to Obama's 'advice'
Obama: I'll cut Perry some slack
'Perry is George W. Bush on steroids'
  • Rick Perry
  • Texas
  • U.S. Politics

What should voters make of Rick Perry's personal insults and ugly rhetoric? Should we take him at his word that he is just "passionate" about these issues? Or should we look further and perhaps wonder whether his "Texas Miracle"-- which is the way he refers to Texas under his leadership -- is not so miraculous after all. Let's take a look:

-- When Perry took over as governor, unemployment was 4.2%. By last June it had risen to 8.2% from 8.1% the year before. Not the right direction for job creation.

-- More than a quarter of Texans have no health care coverage.

-- Texas ranks as one of the worst states in education and education investment. A Texas Legislative Study Group Report found that the state ranks 43rd in high school graduations, 45th in SAT scores, 44th in per pupil expenditure on education and dead last in the percent of population 25 and older with a high school diploma The group also reported that Texas ranks first in the nation of states that allow toxic chemicals to spew freely into the air and water.

-- The job growth that has occurred in Texas has happened because of independent factors that had little to do with Perry, such as growth in military spending and the increase in the price of gasoline. Ironically, the majority of jobs that have been created have been government jobs. Over the past three years the Army has relocated about 14,000 troops to Fort Bliss, which is outside El Paso, and plans to permanently relocate an additional 6,000 troops there in the next two years, according to CNNMoney. According to a fact sheet issued in August of 2009 by the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office, "Fort Hood is the largest single site employer in Texas, directly inserting nearly $3 billion annually into the Texas economy."

Frum: Rick Perry's strength and weakness: Jobs

-- The balanced budget that Perry likes to brag about was made possible by accepting $6.4 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the program that Perry loves to rail against every chance he gets. Perry recently said "Washington's insatiable desire to spend our children's inheritance on failed stimulus plans and other misguided economic theories have given us record debt and left us with far too many unemployed."

Maybe that's why he is so hot-tempered and frazzled. But while the anger and frustration about the economy and Washington D.C. among voters is real, it doesn't mean the candidates need to act it out in extreme ways by threatening violence. In fact, voters -- at least general election voters -- want leaders who know how to lead, how to solve, how to work together for the good of the country, how to look to the positive side of America and not appeal to the lowest common denominator among us.

Certainly in recent weeks and months, Republicans have not demonstrated they know how to do that. The debt ceiling debacle hurt Washington's image, but the current unfavorability numbers for the GOP are particularly dismal (almost 60% of Americans have an unfavorable view of the GOP according to a recent CNN poll).

If Rick Perry wants to be president, he should think about taking a crash course in economic and monetary policy (and perhaps some anger management classes) so as not to scare away the critical support of investors and business leaders who happen to respect the Federal Reserve chairman, and with whom, if Perry wins, he will have to work.

More importantly, he will need to find a way to appeal to the conservatives who make up a disproportionately high voting percentage within the GOP primary process without destroying his ability to credibly come back to the center and talk about more moderate positions that the sensible mainstream of America wants from its leaders. At the moment, Rick Perry certainly does not fit the bill.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.