Texas is now 1-2* in producing articulate presidential candidates. President George W. Bush was often the butt of jokes for his malapropisms, his successor – and now aspiring GOP presidential nominee – Rick Perry has a similar problem. Bush may have had poor grammer, but was ultimately clear in his message. Perry has greatly stumbled over his words to the point of being inchoate. Bush knew how to stay on message and did not deviate from the script. Perry, in an important policy speech, recently lost track of the sought-after headline and instead undercut his own message by paying credence to a long-discredited matter and taking a blantant shot at his opponent.
In Tuesday’s (October 25) presentation of his flat tax proposal (which would allow Americans to opt into a 20% flax tax), Perry raised the settled matter of President Obama’s birth certificate. Telling CNBC, “It’s a good issue to keep alive. It’s fun to poke at him.” A many conservatives had speculated, and some outright declared, whether the president was a born citizen or a Kenyan interlopper. But since Obama produced his birth certificate (after Donald Trump’s incessant campaign), the matter had died down to but a few vehemently anti-Obama troops.
But by raising the matter, Perry distracts from what was supposed to be his main theme – the flax tax – and appears to align himself with discredited conspiracy theorists. The headline then may morph from “Perry unveils tax proposal” to “Perry seeks to keep Obama birther issue alive”. Thus the campaign loses the opportunity for free press in promoting its message and instead is left with coverage most voters do not care about.
The second misstep was Perry’s opening remark calling his main rival, putative front runner Mitt Romney, a “fat cat”. Whatever the merit of that remark (Romney is an investment millionaire several hundred times over), it further distracts from the message a failing campaign should aspire to. Perry is way behind in the polls next to Romney. He needs to elevate his profile by laying out a competing vision. But by opening up with a shot at Romney he only gives the press what they carve: the opportunity to write a “Perry vs. Romney” campaign horse-race story as opposed to a story on Perry’s tax plan. Just imagine the cable news chatter: Perry goes after “fat cat” Romney! In all this, Perry’s message is lost and all the voters are left with is an old script about primary rivalry which will sway few voters to the Perry campaign.
And all this was Perry’s doing. It is one thing to complain about press bias, but the Perry campaign is undercutting its own message through rhetorical divertions.
But Perry need not entirely despaire. The last Texan (sort of, he was born in New Haven, Conn.) still managed to serve two terms in the White House despite his poor oratory. But he at least knew how to stay on topic.
*LBJ was arguably well-spoken.