Rick Perry puts mug shot on T-shirts: what that says about 2016

Rick Perry isn't running from his felony indictment. Instead, he's featuring it on a T-shirt that appears tailored for a presidential run in 2016, especially the reference to 'securing the border' – a weak point in his last presidential primary bid.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Supporters hold up a t-shirt with the word 'Wanted' written over a photograph of Texas Governor Rick Perry, a possible Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential race at a 'NH GOP Victory Rally' in Stratham, New Hampshire August 23, 2014. A felony indictment accusing him of abusing his power has energized Texas conservatives, who claim it’s a politically motivated attack in an important election year. It’s also put the spotlight back on Perry, who is trying to rehabilitate his political image before leaving office in January and convince would-be 2016 Republican primary voters that he’s worth a second look.

Rick Perry has put his mug shot on T-shirts. It’s true: His aides were handing them out in New Hampshire during the Texas governor's weekend visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state. Governor Perry’s political-action committee is selling them, too.

“Get yours for $25 today!” boasts RickPAC on its contribution page Monday morning.

The front of this choice piece of Perry-wear features the mug shot itself, showing the governor, sans his fancy new glasses, smiling ever-so-slightly into the camera. “WANTED” is stamped over Perry’s face, and below is the tag line, “FOR SECURING THE BORDER AND DEFEATING DEMOCRATS."

The T-shirt back shows the mug shot of Rosemary Lehmberg, the Democratic Travis County prosecutor at the center of Perry’s recent felony indictment. She’s disheveled, which isn’t surprising because she was inebriated at the time her photo was taken. “GUILTY” is written on her mug shot, with the tag line, “DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED AND PERVERSION OF JUSTICE."

These graphics, and their juxtaposition, say a lot about how Perry intends to approach his almost-certain upcoming 2016 presidential run.

First, a reminder: Perry was indicted earlier this month by a Travis County grand jury on two felony counts of abuse of power. The charges stem from his veto of $7.5 million intended for a Texas ethics watchdog unit led by Ms. Lehmberg.

In 2013, 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 unit if she didn’t.

She declined to resign, in part because Perry would have been able to appoint her successor, and he went ahead and vetoed the money.

It’s not the veto per se, but this combination of a public demand and the subsequent official veto action that prosecutors allege is illegal.

Now, back to the body coverings. Lots of commentators have opined that Perry’s indictment is legally kind of a stretch. They’ve even said he might benefit from the perception that he’s being attacked. The T-shirt looks like an attempt to capitalize on that theory.

The shirt pits Perry against a drunken Democrat, visually speaking. He’s going to look good by comparison, even if his mug shot weren’t pretty upbeat for the genre, which it is.

But Lehmberg isn’t Perry’s real opponent here. She’s not involved in the prosecution. The indictment was brought by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican state judge, so it isn’t even GOP versus Dem, strictly speaking.

Of course, a T-shirt with Perry on the front and a grand jury on the back might not raise as much money or excite Republican primary voters quite as much.

Perhaps more interesting is the appearance of the word “border” in the Perry mug shot tag line.

In his 2012 presidential run, Perry was hurt both by his poor stage performances (“oops”) and his relative squishiness on immigration. At one point in 2011, he accused fellow Republicans who wished to deny in-state college tuition to children brought into the country illegally by their parents of “lacking a heart."

Since then, the party has moved only right on the question of immigration, and Perry seems determined to toughen his own position on the issue via such measures as deploying the Texas National Guard to the border. In a speech last week, he charged that Islamic State terrorists, such as those who murdered freelance photographer James Foley, may have sneaked into the United States from Mexico.

Thus, “SECURING THE BORDER” is a phrase that Perry wants Republicans to associate with his name.

“[T]o an under-appreciated extent just about everything Rick Perry does on the national stage these days is tailored to correcting” his mistake on immigration and the goofy image left by his maladroit debate performances, writes Brian Beutler in The New Republic.

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