The polls show Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the clear frontrunner at the moment when it comes to Republican support in the presidential nomination fight. But as he treads further into the center stage, Perry’s facing down growing media scrutiny — especially over his own past statements.
How he plays this next phase of his campaign will be key to his viability over the long haul — if Perry ignores the growing questions about his record, he risks damaging the electability quotient that has helped rocket him ahead of Michele Bachmann by appealing more to Republicans beyond the Tea Party. But if he bows too much to critics, shifting his stances to be more in line with a mainstream electorate, he risks alienating those Tea Partiers who are still the voters Republicans running for president are afraid of.
So far, it seems that Perry is sticking with the Tea Party and letting the attacks fall where they will.Here’s an example: when his campaign attempted to back away from his book Fed Up! — which contains attacks on Social Security that might make mainstream voters skittish — Perry publicly rejected it, doubling-down on his claim that the popular program is a Ponzi scheme and maybe unconstitutional.
Democrats certainly seem to think talk like this is playing into their hands.
“For Rick Perry, the way he matches up with [Republican] voters has proven to be at least a short-term political bonanza for him,” Bill Burton, the former White House spokesperson and head of Priorities USA Action told reporters in an email over the weekend. “But in the long term, his ideology could have devastating consequences for our country. Especially the middle class.”
That’s the fight Democrats want. And Perry faces a lot more than questions about his book. As ABC News cataloged Monday, Perry is coming under increasing scrutiny from all fronts. That’s not surprising considering he’s the frontrunner — but it means awkward questions. Perry’s dodged some and swaggered his way past others.
It works for him so far — voters in South Carolina that TPM witnessed earlier this month were enthralled. They want a candidate who’s “genuine,” and sticking to his guns on some of his more controversial moments fits the bill.
But, of course, Perry rival Mitt Romney has made a career out of tailoring his views to the shifting political winds. There are already signs he’s doing it again to try and shore up his right flank from Perry. Romney’s good at it; that’s why he was the frontrunner for so long.
Perry may be able to deflect the tough stuff for now, but sooner or later he’ll have to engage. And if he plays things the same way he played the Fed Up! thing, some of the shine could come off the Perry apple quick when it comes to the non-Tea Party electorate.
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