Rick Perry and 'treasonous': Is the folksy campaigner gaffe-prone?

Rick Perry scored high style marks in his initial campaign swing as a candidate for president. But a number of near-gaffes suggest he could be spending a lot of time doing damage control.

Charles Dharapak/AP
GOP presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Aug. 15.

Rick Perry has proved he’s a gifted campaigner. In his initial swing through Iowa as an affirmed presidential candidate he came early to events, stayed late, and generally seemed affable and approachable to many voters.

Reviews of his style were good, especially compared with those of or his conservative rival, Michele Bachmann.

But style is one thing and content another. The Texas governor made a number of remarks in Iowa that verge on gaffes – as in, he’s going to have to continue to explain what he meant, to the point where he probably wishes he hadn’t said them in the first place.

For instance, does he really think Ben Bernanke should be tried for treason?

That’s perhaps the most over-the-top of Perry’s Iowa remarks. At a meet-and-greet Monday night he said, referring to the Fed chief, “if this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we – we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous – or treasonous in my opinion.”

Obvious follow-up questions here include, is the governor of Texas threatening the head of the Fed with physical violence? Does he think the Fed is doing President Obama’s political bidding? And so forth. You can see where his next press availability is heading.

But that’s not all, as the late great infomercial star Billy Mays used to say about the Vidalia Slice Wizard. Governor Perry – a former captain in the Air Force – said that the US military would prefer a veteran as commander-in-chief.

“The president had the opportunity to serve his country. I’m sure at some time he made the decision that isn’t what he wanted to do,” said Perry.

Asked if he thinks the president loves his country, Perry said to the questioner that they’d have to ask Mr. Obama to find out.

Finally, Perry told a crowd at the Iowa State Fair that the Department of Transportation is planning to require farmers to obtain commercial drivers licenses to legally drive tractors across public roads. He cited this as an example of the “obscene, crazy” regulations that he’d do away with if elected.

The problem is, the Department of Transportation is planning to do no such thing. They issued a statement denying this, last week.

“We have no intention of instituting onerous regulations on the hardworking farmers who feed our country and fuel our economy,” said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in the statement.

What’s up with the loose lips? We’ve got several thoughts.

One, Perry’s not used to the all-consuming attention of national media. In Texas, maybe nobody heard everything he said, or the media got used to letting Perry be Perry. But when you’re running for president, Politico and other outlets are going to be counting the number of bites it takes you to eat a corn dog.

Two, he’s not in Texas anymore. He’s not even in Iowa, in a way. He’s in the free floating national conversation of politics, and not everybody is going to just nod and agree with statements that get a rumble of agreement in Waco. There’s going to be more debate about what he says, and he’d better get used to it.

Three, it’s possible Perry’s just a loose cannon. His tendency to fire off words he may regret could be a side effect of his general folksiness. George W. Bush as a candidate quickly learned that he had to watch every word, and generally did so. Perry may have to learn the same lesson. Otherwise he’ll get tangled in a repeating loop of media inquiries about his statements that will prevent him for putting out preferred political messages.

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