All along, folks have said Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, should he decide to run for president, might have a “Bush problem.” But, back then, critics used the term to refer to the possible negative associations Perry’s plentiful Bush-isms might evoke. Now, according to The New York Times, Perry might have the opposite problem. He might have distanced himself too much from W. At least, that’s what a few anonymous sources tell The Times:
But in recent years, Mr. Perry has broken politically with Mr. Bush, questioning his credentials as a fiscal conservative, accusing him of going on “a big-government binge” and playing down some of Mr. Bush’s accomplishments in Texas in light of his own.
Mr. Perry’s public statements exposed a long-simmering rivalry that had been little known outside the political fraternity here but underscores the rightward drift of the Republican Party since Mr. Bush was president. More acutely, Mr. Perry’s criticism holds potential peril and benefit for him should he decide to mount a presidential campaign, allowing him to establish an identity distinct from Mr. Bush but risking a guerrilla campaign against him by the former president’s inner circle. …
One close associate of the former president, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid a personal confrontation with the governor, warned Mr. Perry against establishing his own conservative bona fides by criticizing Mr. Bush, saying, “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.”
Another, speaking anonymously as well, said, “He’s going to need all the help he can get from all the Republicans he can muster, so he ought to be prudent about that.”
What can I say? It seems perfectly possible that a few disgruntled, loyal Bush aides would wince to hear the current Texas governor — and a potential presidential candidate — criticize their beloved boss and would be all too happy to talk to the NYT about it. But I just don’t think Perry has all that much to worry about from a fellow (or gal) who asks to remain anonymous “to avoid a personal confrontation with the governor.” If, as The Times suggests, these aides aim to conduct a “guerrilla campaign” against Perry to exonerate Bush from any friendly criticism, they’ll have to be a little braver than that. And if Times reporters want readers to believe former Bush aides actually have that aim, they’ll have to more perseveringly encourage their sources to go on the record. It just seems like such a stretch that, out of all the Bush haters in the world, Bush aides would decide to systematically target Perry. Correct his misstatements, of course. Disagree with him, sure. Endorse somebody else, fine. But conduct “a guerrilla campaign” against him? OK.
More importantly, none of the criticisms Perry made — at least none of those cited in the NYT article — seem at all disrespectful. Instead, they seem to proceed from a thoughtful review of certain Bush policies that, however well-intentioned, might not have proved as effective as Perry (or Bush) would have preferred. I’m sure Perry understands the exigencies of the presidency and thinks, as so many do (including me!), that Bush acquitted himself well in office, all things considered. But that doesn’t mean Perry should have to say less-than-ideal policies were actually ideal.
It’s also notable that one of the few OTR sources in the article came from the Perry camp and had a rather different story to tell. Perry’s chief political strategist, David Carney, emphasized the friendship that has always subsisted between Bush and Perry and described their differences pretty simply with, “Same church, different pews.” Carney also said Perry plans to reach out to Bush for advice about whether to run (a decision Perry will supposedly make in the next few weeks).
To be sure, Carney acknowledged the popular impression of a rivalry between the two men, saying that, around the state capital, the rivalry takes on a lore-like cast, that it’s like an “eight-foot alligator in the sewer.” And The Times did, midway through the article, qualify the rivalry as one that festers mostly among aides.
But it seems to me the only “Bush problem” Perry has is the tendency of The Times and other MSM outlets to continually mention Bush in the same breath, instead of evaluating Perry on his own merits. No matter. Perry’s polling well enough anyway, and he’s not even an official candidate.