As the GOP embraces the reactionary politics and anti-government zealotry of the Tea Party, it is steadily purging “moderates” and empowering extremists. Nothing shows this trend more clearly than the lineup of potential Republican presidential candidates. In this new series, we’ll be looking at the records and promises of the Republican Party’s leading presidential prospects. Next up is Rick Perry:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry quickly won support from conservative activists, especially from the Religious Right, when he made a late entry into the 2012 presidential election, unofficially launching his campaign with a prayer rally packed with Religious Right extremists. Perry came into the race midway through his third term as governor, armed with a record of right-wing economic policies; close ties to the oil industry and opposition to regulations on polluters; antagonism to the federal government; and hostility to LGBT equality and abortion rights. Portraying himself as a candidate to the right of Mitt Romney but more electable than the rest of the GOP field, Perry gained traction until his campaign self-destructed thanks to a series of horrific debate performances and unforced errors.
Perry, who has floated the idea of secession from the United States and signed constitutionally dubious legislation defending the right of states to nullify federal laws, wants to repeal the amendments to the U.S. Constitution allowing for a progressive income tax and requiring that U.S. senators are elected directly by voters.
He believes states should be able to opt out of programs like Social Security — which he called a “Ponzi scheme” — and Medicaid. His decision to refuse Medicaid expansion in Texas has cost the state tens of billions of dollars and left millions without insurance. A staunch critic of federal economic policies who once threatened the “almost treasonous” chairman of the Federal Reserve, his opposition to the 2009 federal economic stimulus package didn’t stop him from using stimulus dollars to balance Texas’ budget and stave off a massive shortfall. But it’s unclear how much power Perry thinks economic policy actually has: he once suggested that the 2008 economic crisis was an anti-government message from God.
Perry has played with the conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama’s birth, citing Donald Trump as his source of information on the legitimacy of the president’s citizenship and saying that the conspiracy theory surrounding the president’s birth certificate is “a good issue to keep alive.”
The Texas governor has also dabbled in other anti-Obama conspiracy theories, including alleging that the Obama administration orchestrated a humanitarian crisis on the southern border for political purposes. He made waves with his decision to send the National Guard to patrol the border against Central American children, a plan he unveiled while campaigning in Iowa.
While he will likely ground his candidacy in issues relating to immigration and the economy, Perry is also a social issues warrior. As governor, Perry championed Texas’ law criminalizing consensual sex between adults of the same gender, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case. He made anti-gay animus a central part of his presidential campaign, running a desperate TV ad attacking gay military service members. After his presidential campaign, Perry became an outspoken opponent of a policy change allowing gay youth to join the Boy Scouts, likening that fight to the fight to end slavery. Earlier this year, he defended his state party’s decision to endorse pseudo-scientific ex-gay therapy by comparing homosexuality to alcoholism.
As governor of Texas, Perry enacted some of the most sweeping anti-abortion rights laws in the country, even going so far as to call an emergency session of the state legislature to pass a bill to force the closure of most of the state’s abortion clinics, though a federal judge has temporarily blocked portions of the new restrictions. Perry mocked one of the bill’s principal opponents, state Sen. Wendy Davis, saying “it is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example” of being a teen mother.
Perry was recently indicted on charges that he abused his power as governor to defund an investigative unit that was looking into a project that he had championed. Despite his best effort to portray himself as the victim of a political witch hunt, a judge declined Perry’s attempt to have the indictments thrown out.