How Republicans will attack Rick Perry’s candidacy

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

Rick Perry won't just hint he's running for president in a high-profile speech this Saturday in South Carolina, as his advisers had previously suggested. His spokesman confirms this afternoon the Texas governor will officially declare his bid for the GOP nomination.

While he won't be on stage tonight, Perry's presence is sure to loom large as his fellow GOP hopefuls gather tonight for their first televised debate in Iowa.

Perry had all but admitted he was running in an interview published earlier today with Time Magazine's Mark Halperin. "I'm kind of getting to the haul-in point" in focusing on a presidential candidacy, Perry told Halperin, "and the idea that this is what I'm supposed to be doing."

The candidates on stage in Ames tonight may not go out of their way to mention Perry's name, but they are sure to be asked about Perry, whose possible presidential run has been hanging over the GOP field for months.

Dozens of recent polls show Perry stands to shake up the volatile race for the nomination. A new CNN/ORC poll released Thursday found Perry statistically tied with frontrunner Mitt Romney in the primary race, with Perry at 15 percent and Romney at 17 percent support among likely GOP voters.

Indeed, Perry's candidacy could be a major threat to the former Massachusetts governor's White House dreams. With the Texas economy in comparatively good shape, Perry could undercut Romney's argument that he's the candidate with the best resume when it comes to creating jobs and boosting the economy.

Speaking to voters in Iowa on Wednesday, Romney insisted he's not worried about Perry's entrance into the race. He said his experience in the private sector sets him apart from the Texas governor.

"I'll get a full view, I'm sure, of all the successes of Gov. Perry," Romney said, per the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs. "He's a fine man and a fine governor, and the record of Texas, I think, speaks for itself."

His comments came days after Romney seemed to take a shot at Perry during a stop in New Hampshire on Monday, when he noted a recent poll that found him, not Perry, to be the only GOP candidate beating President Obama among Texas voters. "A little surprising," he wryly noted.

But Romney's swipe at Perry's home-state support could almost seem kind compared to what some candidates and campaign operatives have been saying about Perry's long-expected candidacy both publicly and privately in recent weeks.

Among other things, Rick Santorum has taken aim at Perry's recent flip-flop on gay marriage. Last month, Perry initially said he didn't oppose New York's legalization of same-sex marriage, citing states' rights. But after a conservative outcry, Perry later backtracked, saying he supports a federal amendment that would overturn the law.

"When someone who is a serious candidate for president is doing things that will be destructive not just for the Republican Party, but for the country, I'm going to point that out any chance I get," Santorum told Politico's Dan Hirschhorn.

Perry's soon-to-be rivals will draw on plenty of other material in his record and his past to mount similar attacks. Several rival campaigns have already privately trashed the Texas governor on everything from immigration to his past stint as Al Gore's campaign chairman in Texas in 1988.

"We haven't seen him really be vetted," Sarah Huckabee Sanders, an adviser to Tim Pawlenty, told reporters last month.

"He's the flavor of the month," an adviser to another 2012 GOP campaign, who declined to be named bashing Perry, told The Ticket. "What do we really know about him? He's been treated with kid gloves so far."

Indeed, as Perry nears his official entrance into the race, rival campaigns are sure to unleash mountains of opposition research on the governor. Here's a quick primer on some of the key issues they'll likely attack:

Secession talk: In 2009, Perry appeared at a tea party anti-tax rally in Texas where supporters advocated seceding from the United States to protest Obama's spending policies. Perry didn't specifically endorse the idea--but he later said Texas would be within its rights to secede if it wanted to. "There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said, per the Austin American Statesman. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot." Perry has since said that it's "nonsense" to think he really wanted Texas to leave the union, but his rivals have since unearthed other comments Perry made about secession, implying his comments were more than a joke.

Reversals on immigration: Not unlike his onetime political mentor, George W. Bush, Perry began his Texas governorship with a moderate stance on immigration. In 2001, he pressed for looser border restrictions, to promote a better relationship with Mexico. And he advocated what was then a groundbreaking new law that would offer the children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition at state universities. The law was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act, which sought to offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the United States by their parents. Perry, who has moved to the right on immigration in recent years, says he opposes the federal DREAM Act, but continues to defend his own law. "To punish these young Texans for their parents' actions is not what America has always been about," Perry told the New Hampshire Union Leader last month.

The governor's mansion: In 2007, Perry moved out of the governor's mansion into a lavish rental home in fancy gated community in the hills overlooking Austin. It was meant to be a temporary move, but in 2008, the governor's mansion was largely destroyed in a fire that was later found to be arson. Since then, taxpayers have shelled out more than $600,000 in rent and other costs for Perry's housing, according to an Associated Press accounting in 2010. Among other things, the state paid for $1,000 in "window coverings" from Neiman Marcus, $1,000 for repair to the home's "filterized" ice machine and at least $8,400 to maintain the governor's heated swimming pool. The revelations came at the height of a state budget crisis, but have since been floated around again by many of Perry's rivals, who cite the spending as a sign he's not a true fiscal conservative.

Perry's Democratic past: Perry wasn't always a Republican. As the Texas Tribune's Jay Root notes, the governor spent the first six years of his political career as a Democrat—though he was primarily known as a fiscal conservative, "blue dog" Democrat. Still, he did chair Al Gore's 1988 campaign--which Perry's rivals have gone out of their way to point out in recent weeks. It's likely to come up again and again throughout the primary.

Social issues: In view of Perry's starring role presiding over "The Response" last weekend's high-profile politcally themed prayer rally, the Texas governor is clearly aiming to position himself as a strong social conservative in the race. But it's not just Santorum who is questioning Perry's credentials. As The Ticket previously reported, some other high-profile Republicans have questioned Perry's "come to Jesus" moment. In an email to his supporters a few weeks ago, Mike Huckabee trashed Perry. "For all his new found commitment to hyper-conservatism, he'll get to explain why he supported pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage Rudy Giuliani last time," Huckabee wrote.