Why Rick Perry Won't Unite the Republican Party

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Conventional wisdom holds that the Texas governor can satisfy all of the right's constituencies. Actually, he gives most of them reasons to be upset.

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Before Gov. Rick Perry entered the race for the Republican nomination, the conventional wisdom held that unlike other candidates, he would be acceptable to every constituency on the right. Early polls confirm that GOP voters are tentatively supportive as they get to know him, his issues, and his record. But the scrutiny that comes with a presidential run often persuades voters to reconsider their initial assessments. And it is important that they do so with Perry. Information that has emerged or garnered new attention in the few days since he entered the race suggests that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, almost every constituency on the right can find something about his record to be upset about. Is Perry's early appeal all hat and no cattle?

SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES

They're upset that in 2007, Perry mandated that all sixth-grade girls in Texas receive the vaccine for HPV, a virus that leads to cervical cancer and is most commonly transmitted via sex. The Texas legislature ultimately overruled Perry, and he has since apologized for what he says was a mistake he made because of his hatred for cancer. (Really.) Michele Malkin is among the right-leaning pundits who aren't ready to forgive. "The PerryCare executive fiat was not simply a one-off mistake explained away by lack of 'research,'" she writes. "It exposed a fundamental lapse in both political and policy judgments, an appalling lack of ethics and a disturbing willingness to smear principled defenders of limited government who object to the Nanny State."

Perry also started backing constitutional amendments on same-sex marriage and abortion only after he started chasing the presidency, which should make social conservatives wonder how committed he actually is to advancing them -- it takes a lot to amend America's founding document. 

CHAMPIONS OF FEDERALISM

Until Gov. Perry started running for president, he portrayed himself as a principled believer in the need for local decision-making, argued that the power to vote with one's feet on values issues was a cornerstone of a free republic, and avowed that he had a powerful aversion to getting the federal government involved in anything new. He wrote at length about all these issues in his book, Fed Up.

But his behavior when he started to pursue higher office so starkly contradicts the positions and values he previously asserted that there is no reason for anyone to trust his states' rights bona fides, as I argued at great length in a piece on his sudden insistence that we should amend the Constitution so that the federal government can impose on the states a national marriage policy.

FREE MARKET CONSERVATIVES

Tim Carney is a conservative journalist who covers the cozy relationship between big government and big business, and how the corporatist policies that result come at the expense of consumers, small businesses, and upstart entrepreneurs. He dedicated a recent column to the Texas Enterprise Fund, a pool of taxpayer money that Perry used to subsidize select businesses.

As it turned out, beneficiaries of the largesss would often return the favor by lavishing Perry with political donations. "His policies -- from backroom drug company giveaways to green energy subsidies -- eerily mirror the unseemly big business-big government collusion that has characterized President Obama's presidency," Carney writes. "After four years of bailouts, drug-lobby-crafted health care 'reform,' corporate handouts in the name of 'stimulus' and 'green jobs,' and cash-for-clunkers boondoggles, does Perry really think what we need is more corporatism?"

ESTABLISHMENT CONSERVATIVES

When Gov. Perry ran for reelection in Texas, the Bush family and those loyal to them supported his opponent, Kay Bailey Hutchinson. "While in the White House, Bush 2 and his aides regularly scoffed at Perry for reasons that were never fully clear, making fun of his syntax and intellectual prowess without any sense of irony," former Bush administration speech writer Matt Latimer writes in The Daily Beast.

He goes on to report that Karl Rove is going after Perry:

After Rove called Perry "unpresidential," former Bush press secretary Tony "Ralph Malph" Fratto joined in--calling Perry, you guessed it, "unpresidential." This was followed in quick succession by similar sentiments from a former Rove aide, Pete "Potsie" Wehner. Meanwhile, two "unnamed" Bush aides (wonder who they could be?) issued the following warning to The New York Times: "If you're really trying to be the nominee and want to go the distance, you just don't want the former president of the United States and his people working against you."

Ironically, other establishment conservatives critical of Perry worry that he can't win a general election largely because he reminds voters of George W. Bush.

THE ANTI-ILLEGAL-IMMIGRATION RIGHT

Mark Krikorian, the resident anti-illegal-immigration writer at National Review, reports that Numbers USA, an anti-immigration advocacy group, "has added Texas Gov. Rick Perry to its grid of presidential candidates, giving him an initial grade of D minus. He can bring this grade up significantly, because there are a number of areas about which he's never taken a position, but his stated positions are mediocre -- he's opposed to sanctuary cities, which is good, and talks a good game in support of border security, but is apparently opposed to E-Verify and has supported (before the recession) increased importation of foreign workers." Perry also supported a Texas version of the DREAM Act, which allowed some illegal immigrants to pay in state tuition at Texas state universities.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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