Texas

Even the most sober-minded political reporter is allowed the occasional frivolity, and with that license in mind I offer up this photo from my recent travels in Texas to report on the life and times of Rick Perry. This delightfully named municipality is just west of College Station, Perry's college stomping grounds. My peg -- because even frivolity needs a peg -- is that Perry may now have an opening with the Snooki vote, given that her nemesis Chris Christie has sided with Mitt Romney; and that the Snooki tax was up for official discussion today at the IRS. Hey, that's two pegs!

Shortly after the Republican debate in Orlando, when Rick Perry was being pummeled for his mangled answers on Pakistan, Mitt Romney's flip-flopping, and more, I happened to find myself talking to a Texas Democrat who has known Perry since his first days in the state legislature. I asked if she was surprised at how things had gone for Perry in the debates so far. Yes, she said. She was surprised he was doing as well as he was. Perry's lack of aptitude for the debate stage has been common knowledge for years in Texas.

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The magazine's current cover story on Rick Perry takes a close look at the cronyism and funny math involved in his two job creation funds, which have doled out more than $800 million in taxpayer money, including to many enterprises backed by his top campaign contributors, in return for the "creation" of jobs that prove hard to find on the ground.

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Recently, I asked whether Republican voters would care enough about the crony capitalism evident in Rick Perry's Texas to vote against him. For Tea Party conservatives to do so, I suggested, would mean confronting the disconnect between their populist rhetoric and their willingness, until now, to tolerate Republican coziness with big business. Commenter "Rayward" made another good point to explain why the crony capitalism charge may not take against Perry: "Crony capitalism has no sting anymore because Republicans have neutered the term by calling Obama a crony capitalist.

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[Guest post by Simon van Zuylen-Wood]  “I came as a Perry fan,” 42-year-old defense consultant David Hebert told me as he stood in a long line of Values Voter Summit attendees waiting to get their copies of This Is Herman Cain! autographed. “It would have taken a lot to shake me. But I changed my mind with that speech.” Judging from the frenzied hooting and high-five-your-neighbor reaction to Cain’s speech Friday afternoon, he was not the only one.

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The political class is reacting with some astonishment to the Perry campaign's announcement that it raised $17 million in the third quarter (actually, in barely more than half the quarter, given Perry's late entry.) This most impressive sum conflicts with the boom and bust story line that had settled on Perry, after his surge to the front of the pack and more recent stumbles. But really, no one should have been surprised by this figure. As I describe in my new cover story in the magazine, raising money is what Perry does better than just about anyone.

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I can't defend Rick Perry's (or his father's) apparent slowness to paint over the word "Niggerhead" on a rock by the entrance of a West Texas hunting camp that his family leased. It's deplorable, and it doesn't speak well for his racial sensitivity.

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And so it ends—not with a bang, but a wimp-out. Chris Christie, who had become the most courted reluctant Republican since Dwight Eisenhower, permanently closed the door Tuesday afternoon on a 2012 White House run: “Now is not my time. I have a commitment to New Jersey that I just can’t abandon.” A self-described “regular guy from New Jersey,” Christie exudes more self-confidence than even Rick Perry out shooting coyotes.

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We’re at a very strange juncture in the 2012 presidential contest. Rick Perry continues to struggle, as Mitt Romney savagely exploits his offensive-to-conservatives position on immigration and the Texan deals with new, potentially damaging revelations of a racially insensitive name for a hunting camp rented by his family. But Romney’s not benefitting much in the polls, and he remains a persona non grata to many conservatives.

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Amid all the talk today about what sort of place Rick Perry comes from—and how much people there clung to their appellation of a certain piece of land —it's worth calling attention to what has to be one of the most telling and eye-opening maps of contemporary voting behavior. In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry with 50.7 percent of the vote. Four years later, Barack Obama beat John McCain with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

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