Perry possesses attributes that lend themselves to igniting the culture wars, in the same way dry brush in California is prone to catching fire. But flammability quotients are beside the point given that Perry is everywhere with his can of gasoline, souvenir pistol-shaped lighter, and every intention of fueling the culture war's flames. That's what Lowry leaves out of the column. The main reason Perry is likely to draw the ire of liberals isn't that the leftists are sitting around in Manhattan looking for a cowboy to sneer at. It's that they're going to react when expertly provoked by a pol who knows what GOP voters want: someone who drives liberals crazy.
It isn't lost on Perry that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin draw adoring crowds and endless media coverage, while Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are dismissed among Republicans and media types alike. Why is that? It isn't because Paul and Johnson aren't loyal to the avowed principles of the tea party. They're more substantively uncompromising than Palin or Perry and more accomplished than Bachmann.
Their defect is that they don't serve up red meat or conform to the cultural cues that a segment of the base demands. I'm not just talking about small-town Republicans in red states either. Here's what Washington, D.C. resident and GOP establishment insider Michael Goldfarb has to say about Perry: "He's a cowboy. You have to assume he'd shoot first and ask questions later." (He means that as a compliment.)
Columns like the one that Lowry wrote are read by conservatives around the country, who come away aggrieved because National Review makes it seem as though the rest of the culture is antagonistic toward people like them. In fact, they're being made to feel more disdain than is justified by reality.
That's how you rile up the base.
Perry "may not become as despised as Sarah Palin," Lowry writes, "but that's because he'll never be a pro-life woman -- the accelerant for the conflagration of Palin-hatred." That's nonsense. What fueled Palin-hatred, more than anything else, was the fact that shortly after being introduced to the nation, she was made the designated attack dog of the McCain campaign. She proceeded to divide the nation into "real America," with its good people in small towns, and fake America, where the coastal elites and the "lamestream media" live. Is it any wonder that journalists and coastal-dwelling residents of blue states wound up disliking her? Could it be denied that she leveraged her talent for polarization into a multimillion dollar TV contract, or that in public life generally she has doubled down on rhetorical slights and combativeness at every opportunity?
It is the same with Perry.
If liberals start mocking his rural Texas roots in 2012, I'll publicly say that they're wrong to do so. Our politics shouldn't be about cultural cues and identity politics. But any insults will come two years after Perry, in his 2010 book, pointedly mocked residents of California and Massachusetts for their cultures and values. It is too much for Perry or his sympathizers in conservative media to now come along and cast themselves as victims, or even to suggest, as Lowry does, that it is Perry's identity, rather than deliberately combative constructs, that makes him controversial.