Last Friday, a grand jury in Travis County, Texas, indicted the state’s Republican Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power. Normally such an action would hamper the forward progress of a politician with dreams of higher office, which in Governor Perry’s case has been the White House. But is it possible that these charges could actually give Perry a boost? That’s what some D.C. politicos are muttering this late-summer Monday.
They’re basing this opinion on the fact that lots of folks, liberals included, think the charges are thin at best and spurious at worst. That could win Perry some sympathy from GOP primary voters. Plus, Perry’s not running from the publicity around the indictment so much as trying to spin it to his advantage – framing it as an attack on what he calls his legitimate use of political power.
“Rather than play the victim as too many conservatives do when treated unfairly by the media or opponents, Perry is rising to the occasion,” writes conservative pundit Jennifer Rubin on Monday on her “Right Turn” Washington Post blog.
The charges stem from Perry’s line-item veto of $7.5 million in funding for a Texas state ethics watchdog unit led by an elected Democrat, Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. In 2013, Ms. Lehmberg was arrested for and convicted of drunken driving. Perry publicly called on her to resign for this offense, and he threatened to veto the state funds for her watchdog unit if she didn’t.
Lehmberg did not resign, and Perry went ahead with his threat. It’s not the veto per se, but this combination of a public demand and the subsequent official veto action, that’s produced the indictment.
As an aside, Lehmberg was extremely intoxicated at the time of her arrest, and there’s police video of her behaving badly under the influence, threatening cops with retaliation and so forth. So that’s out there.
Lots of Democrats are gleeful about the Perry indictment, of course. They figure the affair is payback for a governor who’s been pretty ruthless about the manner in which he exercises power back home.
But that hasn’t stopped a number of liberal commentators from noting that as a legal matter, the charges aren’t overwhelming. Former Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted that the indictment seems “pretty sketchy,” for instance. The left-leaning Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine over the weekend wrote that “having read the indictment, legal training of any kind seems unnecessary to grasp its flimsiness.”
Plus, the underlying facts of the case could allow Perry to portray himself as a strong leader who was acting openly in what he believed to be the best interests of the state. He could take a page from the playbook of President Obama, who says he’s being sued by House Republicans for just doing his job.
In that sense, Perry may be better off than fellow 2016 hopeful New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). It’s a lot harder to put a positive spin on blocking traffic on the George Washington Bridge to hurt political enemies – the alleged offense of Christie administration officials.
Still, it’s never good to have the word “indicted” crawling across the bottom of the screen while they show your picture on television. Perry could suffer some political damage from the sheer power of that word. And some Democrats note that the charges, while perhaps flimsy, may be fitting given Perry’s reputation in Texas as a strong-arming governor. He may not want his past behavior in political disputes to become fodder for general investigations on the part of the national media, writes the left-leaning Ed Kilgore in the Washington Monthly.
“I’d say he needs to get ‘INDICTED’ from beneath his television image asap. Even if that’s all smoke, there’s fire below,” Mr. Kilgore writes on Monday.