Why some tea partyers are skeptical of Rick Perry

In the latest Rasmussen poll of likely GOP primary voters, 39 percent of tea partyers back Gov. Rick Perry, but some are questioning the candidate's tea party credibility.

By , Staff writer

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    Texas governor and Republican presidential contender Rick Perry steps off his campaign bus as he visits the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines Monday.
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When asked to name their top options for president, tea partyers often include Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

He was one of the first major Republicans to embrace the low-tax, small-government movement when it started in early 2009. Now a fully announced candidate, he talks about a President Perry vetoing new spending measures “until the ink runs out” of his pen. He includes himself when discussing the tea party – as in, “we’re not angry, we’re indignant.”

In the latest Rasmussen poll of likely GOP primary voters, 39 percent of tea partyers back Governor Perry. (And overall, Perry leads the Republican field at 29 percent. Ex-Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is at 18 percent, and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota gets 13 percent.)

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But not all tea party leaders are sold. Take Katrina Pierson, a top member of the Dallas Tea Party. She told Reuters recently she thinks the Texas budget is balanced only on paper. And she’s fielding phone calls from tea party activists around the country who want to know if Perry is “for real.”

“With Perry, there are a lot of concerns, including his stance on illegal immigration,” wrote Judson Phillips, head of the social networking site Tea Party Nation, on his website before Perry announced.

Another blogger on Tea Party Nation, Andrew Cochran, asked this question before the Perry announcement: “Which Rick Perry will run for president?”

Will we see the Rick Perry who cherishes and honors the 10th Amendment as the vehicle for protecting states' rights – the one who is willing to honor a state's decisions even when it might interfere with his personal views?”

Mr. Cochran continues, “Or will we see the Rick Perry who continues to brag about Texas-style tort reform, as [if] it's a nationwide solution, even though federal tort reform is clearly a breach of the 10th Amendment and states' rights?

Other points about Perry have come up as tea partyers decide whom to support for the GOP nomination:

  • Perry was a Democrat until 1989. He was, of course, a conservative Southern Democrat – which is different from, say, a Minnesota Democrat, as Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R) of Minnesota was as a young woman. But a D is a D.
  • Not only was Perry once a Democrat, he was the Texas chairman of then-Sen. Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1988. At that point, Senator Gore was already a crusader on climate change, though a Perry spokesman says the governor didn’t agree with him on everything.
  • Perry appears to hold contradictory views on gay marriage. He said he thought New York should be allowed to legalize gay marriage in the name of states’ rights, but then said he backed a federal marriage amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. This is one point where social conservatives who want the federal amendment are at odds with tea partyers who choose to focus on fiscal matters.
  • Perry mandated the Gardasil cancer vaccination for all Texas sixth-grade girls, but the measure was rescinded by the Texas Legislature after a backlash. Perry now says he regrets the mandate. Perry faced accusations of government intrusion and even shady money dealings with vaccine manufacturer Merck, which donated to his campaign.
  • In the Republican universe, Perry is as establishment as they come. He was until recently the chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association. He’s held elective office in Texas since 1985.
  • In 2001, he signed Texas’s version of the DREAM Act, which allows some illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. To conservatives, the DREAM Act is anathema; Perry opposes the federal version of the act. If Perry wins the nomination, he will have to walk a fine line as he woos the Latino vote.
  • Perry has been living in a $10,000-a-month rental home, at taxpayer expense, since 2007 while the governor’s mansion has been undergoing repairs. This flies in the face of his claims of fiscal prudence, as he cuts the state budget.

Mark Meckler, co-founder of the national coalition Tea Party Patriots, says the scrutiny of Perry’s record is typical for all the candidates, and he sees no wave of tea party support for any of them.

Folks are still in the “deep analysis” phase, and that’s a good thing, he says.

“Tea partyers are very acutely aware of what enthusiasm and excitement put into the White House in 2008, and he’s sitting there now,” says Mr. Meckler, who plans to stay neutral in the nomination race. “What they’re doing now is the exact opposite. They’ve put aside the emotion, and are logically and methodically looking at records and analyzing every candidate.”

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