You have to hand it to Texas Governor Rick Perry: He’s raised the “lemons-to-lemonade” cliché to a new level.
Rather than being embarrassed or ashamed over his felony indictments – for abuse of power and coercion in a case likely to involve both legal and political consequences – he’s turned it into a campaign tool as he explores the possibility of another presidential run.
It’s all those Austin-area liberal Democrats just trying to punish him for telling Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg (a Democrat) to resign after she had been convicted of drunk driving, he claims.
Just to review things …
Ms. Lehmberg oversees a public integrity unit – a kind of state government watchdog meant to enforce state ethics laws – which was probing alleged corruption by the Perry administration. When she refused to resign (which would have allowed Perry to name her replacement), the Governor threatened to cut $7.5 million from the public integrity unit budget.
Grand jurors in Travis County charged Mr. Perry with abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant.
But back to that T-shirt, which is being peddled by RickPAC, an independent political action committee whose mission is “to help elect conservatives across our country who share Governor Perry’s strong belief in the 10th Amendment.” (That’s the amendment to the US Constitution that reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”)
The front of the shirt has Perry’s mug shot with the message: “WANTED for securing the border and defeating Democrats.”
The back has Lehmberg’s DWI mug shot with the message: “GUILTY for driving while intoxicated and perversion of justice.”
The Governor is delighted.
“Check out our new t-shirt! Online only & for a limited time. Get yours for $25 today!” Perry tweeted.
The (political) jury is still out on how all of this impacts Perry’s political future.
The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick O’Connor and Nathan Koppel speculate that the indictment may help more than hurt Perry’s chances in 2016. They write:
“As Mr. Perry lays the foundation for a possible second White House bid, strategists in early primary election states such as Iowa and South Carolina say the indictment would strengthen his standing among voters there.
‘Republicans in South Carolina are going to eat up what Perry did,’ said Chad Connelly, that state's former Republican Party chairman.
“Mark Lundberg, chairman of the Sioux County GOP in Iowa, said the indictment appears to be ‘political gamesmanship,’ and potential Iowa caucus-goers probably won't hold it against him.”
That may be true in primary elections and nominating caucuses, where conservative activists – including tea partiers – are especially influential. But it makes establishment Republicans nervous and potential voters wary of yet another politician tainted by scandal (if that’s what this is).
Daily Beast blogger Dean Obeidallah predicts that Perry could end up doing jail time for the offenses he’s been charged with.
“I don’t care how many so-called ‘legal pundits’ tell you Perry has nothing to fear. Criminal defense lawyers I spoke to who are in the legal trenches on a daily basis made it clear to me that this case could result in a conviction,” he writes. “That’s why Perry has hired a team of high-powered lawyers to represent him, including two from Washington, D.C.”
There’s also the question of whether the recent indictment of Perry overshadows his lengthy and controversial tenure as governor of Texas or leads to deeper probing of his political past.
“The greatest irony with Perry being cast as victim is that the many charges of cronyism and legalized corruption that have long dogged his tenure are now at risk of fading to the background,” worries Abby Rapoport, a former staff writer for The Texas Observer.
“The highlights alone show a theme,” she writes in The Week magazine. “Perry's biggest backer, the late home-building magnate Bob Perry (no relation), once got his own commission, the Texas Residential Construction Commission, which largely shielded builders from consumer complaints. In another case, Perry mandated an HPV vaccine for all Texas girls after his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, became a lobbyist for the vaccine maker, Merck. Then there was the time construction firm HNTB hired former Perry spokesman and friend Ray Sullivan less than a year after he left the governor’s office; from 2004 to 2009, when Sullivan returned to Perry’s staff, the company got $300 million worth of state contracts.”