Does Perry have a plan?

Yesterday, I wrote that Rick Perry needs to stop worrying so much about his competitors in the Republican primary fight and start laying out his own plans for a Perry presidency in order to claim the mantle of a front-runner.  Jill Lawrence at the Daily Beast decided to take a look at Perry’s website to see what kind of argument that might be, and discovered why Perry might be a little too focused on attacking Romney:

In public at least, Rick Perry is among those writing off his stumbling debate performances as a verbal problem—as in, he’s not a slick, smooth talker like President Obama or Mitt Romney. But Perry would be less of a piñata, and sound more like a president, if he had laid out a full platform.

In his three debates so far, the governor has attacked Obama and Romney, defended himself, explained himself, and talked about Texas. But the biggest missing piece is his blueprint for America.

When Perry is under fire over some aspect of his Texas record, he hasn’t pivoted to signature plans for jobs or foreign policy. A spin through Perry’s website underscores the problem. Under “Jobs,” we find five paragraphs of conservative boilerplate. The most detailed sentence refers to “low taxes, reasonable regulations, a predictable civil litigation system and an educated workforce.”

Perry has only been in the race for a few weeks, Lawrence notes, and the campaign tells her that full policy papers will come “at a time of our choosing.”  That makes sense for a candidate who is just entering the race when it’s early in the cycle, but it’s not early any more.  Voters will have to make choices in four months, and the debates are taking place right now.

Perry’s competition have already laid out specifics on economic policy, especially his toughest foe, Mitt Romney, whose plan is detailed enough to be a 160-page book.  Herman Cain has his 9-9-9 plan, and even Jon Huntsman — who may not qualify for the next debate — has an economic plan that the Wall Street Journal takes seriously enough to review and praise. Not having anything beyond a few boilerplate conservative concepts doesn’t give voters a reason to positively support Perry, and being this far behind the others on stage puts him in a weak position to answer policy questions on the most important issue in the upcoming elections.  Not only does it make Perry sound unprepared, it has forced him into an explosion of cliches during the debates, according to Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics.

That would still be all right if Perry focused on introducing himself rather than just go on the attack against Romney, but that’s not the direction Perry has taken.  Instead, he’s gone on the attack over Romney’s book (getting a three-Pinocchio review from WaPo’s Glenn Kessler for his second campaign ad), and doesn’t appear ready to change direction at all:

Rick Perry’s widely panned debate performances? Just a hiccup. Any major changes in debate prep? None planned. His unexpected and deflating Florida straw poll loss last weekend? Not a big deal.

Even as some of his supporters grow anxious, the Texas governor’s top aides insist they have no plans for real or even symbolic changes to their campaign. The only pivot they’ll make, they say, is to become more aggressive with Mitt Romney.

The defiant response in the face of nearly a week of sharp criticism is a reflection of Perry’s own pugnacious style — the best defense is a good offense. But it’s also a signal from the Austin powers about what they view as the bed-wetting within the GOP political class.

The Texan’s aides downplay the tele-town-halls Perry had Monday night with Iowa and South Carolina Republicans as having been long-planned – not exercises in reassurance. And the economic speech Perry has slated for Friday won’t feature a major policy roll-out.

“We’re not going to change what we’re doing,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. “It’s a long race.”

This points out the problem of late-race entries, because the time for introductions and policy rollouts gets crunched into weeks.  Unfortunately, Perry’s team doesn’t seem focused on doing either.  Perhaps Perry can pull it off, but at some point he’ll have to give more detailed answers to policy questions than just “Texas.”

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023