Texas Governor Rick Perry has just entered the 2012 Republican primary, and already the governor is shaking things up. Mr. Perry has jumped to the top of the polls, neck-in-neck with former Governor Mitt Romney.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Perry’s quick rise has invited comparisons to former President George W. Bush. Both, after all, were or are Republican governors of the state of Texas. Both speak with the same Texas drawl. Democrats will be quick to embellish these similarities, attacking Mr. Perry as a clone of the unpopular Mr. Bush.
There is, however, one surprising difference between the two Texas governors.
Rick Perry has campaigned as a proud conservative warrior. He gained national attention for suggesting, mostly as a political ploy, that Texas could secede from the union. He has called the Federal Reserve as acting “treasonous.” He hosted a prayer rally for the nation just before announcing his candidacy. In the few days since he has declared his candidacy, Mr. Perry has thrown out more red meat than the Republican field has seen for months.
In 2000, on the other hand, Governor George W. Bush campaigned as a moderate. This may surprise a number of people, especially those whose opinion of Mr. Bush is more negative. But it’s the truth: Mr. Bush played much on the theme of “compassionate conservatism” in 2000. In the area of foreign policy, he promised an end to the foreign “misadventures” that the Clinton administration was so fond of getting into. Mr. Bush spent much time talking about the bipartisan success he’d had working with the Democratic Texas legislature. He promised to continue doing this as president.
Of course, the events of September 11th fundamentally upturned Mr. Bush’s presidency; after that, he spoke no longer about compassionate conservatism. Who knows what Mr. Bush might have done had America not been attacked then.
Be as that may, the fact remains that Mr. Bush and Mr. Perry campaigned and are campaigning on two very different themes. Mr. Perry is advertising himself as a conservative firebrand. Mr. Bush advertised himself as a “compassionate conservative.” The two are very different themes, and observers of the 2012 Republican primary may well be advised to pay attention to the difference.