Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Rick Perry Can Win the Tea Party

By Michael Johns

No Republican Presidential candidate has yet solidified universal support of the tea party movement, but the battle for that support is intensifying. How big is the tea party prize? Still less than three years old, one in four American voters--in excess of 50 million Americans--now support the tea party movement, according to the most recent Gallup poll.

One candidate whose candidacy would be substantially elevated by a more universal embrace of the tea party movement is that of Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose conservative credentials were largely unchallenged prior to his entry to the race. But tea party and Republican support for Perry has fallen substantially since September.

The fall has been steep. A September 20 Gallup poll of Republican voters showed Perry leading all Republican candidates, with 31 percent support (seven points higher than that of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney). However, three weeks later, on October 15, Gallup found that Perry's support among Republican voters had slipped to 15 percent, placing him behind both Romney (20 percent) and Georgia businessman Herman Cain (18 percent).

What accounts for Perry's slip? Many signs point to a growing recognition among tea party and Republican voters of Perry's unpopular decision to provide illegal aliens with in-state tuition rates to Texas colleges and universities. "You put in place a magnet to draw illegals into the state, which was giving $100,000 of tuition credit to illegals that come into this country," Romney told Perry during a Republican Presidential debate last month.

Possibly intensifying concerns about Perry's candidacy among tea party voters, the Texas governor has been unapologetic in defense of the policy. "Are we gonna create tax wasters or are we gonna create tax payers?" Perry asked last month in New Hampshire.

Tea party concerns about Romney's continued support for the 2008 TARP bank bailouts and a mandated health insurance plan (not so dissimilar from Obamacare) for Massachusetts during his governorship have long troubled tea party activists and, to a large extent, opened the door for possible broad tea party support for Perry and other Republican candidates. But Perry's handling of issues related to border security and illegals continue to hamper that broad embrace.

Those who may know Perry's record best--Texas tea party leaders--continue to raise red flags concerning his candidacy. Last month, as it appeared unlikely that Perry was going to support Republican-sponsored legislation that would empower Texas law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of those they detain, Texas tea party leader JoAnn Fleming derided Perry. "Governor Perry's decided, apparently, that he just needs to keep pointing the finger at Washington D.C., which absolves him of any responsibility," she said.

Still, Perry's otherwise exceptional conservative record as Texas governor, combined with his $17 million campaign war chest, offer him an opportunity of recovering tea party support if he can win back his credibility on issues related to border security and illegals. Such a step might begin with him rescinding his support for in-state tuition assistance for illegals and a reversal of his position on empowering Texas law enforcement to assist in enforcing the nation's immigration laws.
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