Rick Perry: shooting from the hip, or drifting (gasp!) left?

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an interview yesterday with the Texas Tribune and the Washington Post, said a couple of very odd things. It makes me wonder if he’s simply unleashed these days, or if he’s decided on a course change in a potential Presidential race.

The story, dominated by a “Perry versus Ted Cruz” horserace focus, somewhat buried what I’d consider the lede – highly interesting comments on the overheated open carry issue in the Texas Capitol, and on Molly White’s xenophobic Facebook comments in reaction to Muslim Texans visiting the state Capitol last week.

Representative White garnered national media, and not in the good way, after telling supporters on her Facebook page, on the day Muslim Texans were visiting the Capitol, that she’d instructed her staff  to ask those who visited her office “to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” a stance that earned her a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Joe Straus, as well as deserved nationwide scorn.

In his interview yesterday, Perry made no bones that he disagrees with Rep. White’s position:

“It’s every legislator’s right to say what they want to say,” he said of the Belton Republican’s Facebook comments. “I certainly wouldn’t have.”

“I think the message needs to be sent and has historically been sent that we are a very diverse state,” he said. “We have a lot of different people, different religions, different cultures that call Texas home. We want them to feel comfortable there.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.12.17 AM

This photo never gets old.

The former Governor was even more surprising in his comments about the ongoing controversies surrounding the open carry of handguns debate raging in Texas: the gun totin’ rootin’ tootin’ pistol-packin’ coyote-shootin’ daddy-o ain’t a fan:

Perry said he was “not necessarily all that fond of this open carry concept,” adding that those who carry guns ought to be “appropriately backgrounded, appropriately vetted, appropriately trained.”

This position puts him squarely at odds with the so-called “Constitutional carry” advocates currently threatening members of the Legislature with violence if they don’t pass a law allowing them to openly carry handguns without first getting a license. (the measure more likely to pass is one which would require licensing and training, much like current concealed weapon license holders do)

But there’s a more crucial nuance to Perry’s position – one likely to put him at highly-emotional odds with Second Amendment zealots:

“We license people to drive on our highways,” he said. “We give them that privilege. The same is true with our concealed handguns.”

“Hold on there a damn minute,” gun rights advocates are likely to respond, despite Perry merely stating a fact reflecting current reality in Texas law.

Perry just put gun rights – which Second Amendment advocates consider a fundamental Constitutional right – on the same level as drivers licenses – which has long been deemed a privilege, not a right. This is a stance highly likely to get Bubba’s britches in a wad.

Neither of the above stances, on the Muslim dust-up or the open carry fight, is likely to ingratiate him with the more conservative leaning Republican voters in a Presidential primary race.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that Perry simply misspoke and will soon walk back his comments. If so, fair enough, and not particularly interesting.

The second possibility is highly interesting. If his comments were deliberate, it may well signal a change of strategy for Perry in his Presidential aspirations. His comments seem…well…reasonable. Even to me. Hold me close.

Has Perry decided that the GOP Presidential field targeting the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is too crowded, and instead he’s going after establishment Republicans? If so, it wouldn’t be irrational.

On most early head-to-head measures of Perry versus Ted Cruz (who will probably run for President and is indeed the cuddly darling of the Tea Party), Perry usually doesn’t fare well. Add former Governor Mike Huckabee to the list of potentials going after the conservative grass roots, and you can imagine where Perry might suddenly feel under water.

But over on the establishment-leaning side of things, Mitt Romney just announced that he’s out, arguably leaving Chris Christie (who, it was just revealed yesterday, has a fresh criminal investigation pending), and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who Perry might imagine he can best head-to-head). Potentials Rand Paul and Scott Walker may not have yet decided what they want to be when they grow up. But if Perry has decided to delay a head-to-head battle against rival Ted Cruz, at least in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, drifting toward establishment Republican primary voters would be one way to do it.

Only time will tell whether Perry’s comments signal a course change, or whether he was just shooting from the hip. But anybody who agrees that there is no finer live entertainment than Republican Presidential primary process might agree that the interview was certainly eyebrow-raising.

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