Rick Perry is literally trying to steal Herman Cain’s thunder

If at first you don't succeed, steal your opponent's gimmicky tax plan, tweak it, and call it your own

Topics: Opening Shot, 2012,

Rick Perry is literally trying to steal Herman Cain's thunderRepublican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, runs prior to delivering a keynote address during the Western Republican Leadership Conference, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) (Credit: AP)

Wednesday offered a perfect illustration of the volatile condition of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.

The day began with the political world struggling to decide if he’d finally turned in a strong debate performance on Tuesday night, or if by flashing unusual aggression he’d simply found a new way to turn off voters. Then came word of two new polls from the key early primary states of South Carolina and Florida, each showing Perry running in single digits, far behind Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, the latest humbling sign of how far he’s fallen since the early weeks of his campaign. But by nightfall, Perry’s fortunes turned, albeit in a backhanded way, with the appearance and bizarre removal of an online anti-Perry attack video from the Romney campaign — apparent proof that, despite his polling slide, the Texan is still viewed by Romney and his team as their chief rival.

Between all of this, Perry also made some news, using a speech to the Western Republican Leadership Conference to announce that he will soon propose a national flat tax. How Perry’s plan, which he said he will detail next Monday, is received may end up determining whether he moves back into contention in the GOP race or continues his slide toward irrelevance.

On one level, the move reeks of cynicism and desperation. Perry has been a candidate for more than two months, but hasn’t said anything about a flat tax before now. In that same time, he’s watched Cain overtake him in the polls while talking up his 9-9-9 tax plan — a call to throw out the existing tax code and replace it with flat income, sales, and business transaction rates. This has allowed Perry to see which aspects of Cain’s plan have gone over well with Republicans and which haven’t. For instance, the new national sales tax that Cain is proposing has caused him considerable grief; not surprisingly, Perry’s plan apparently won’t include one. It’s as if Perry has been using Cain as a flat tax stalking horse.



But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a bad strategic move.

Cain’s recent surge in the polls reflects Republicans’ disappointment in Perry’s performance as a candidate and their reluctance to climb on board the Romney bandwagon. It also demonstrates just how popular the basic concept of a flat tax is. But Cain had a rough night at Tuesday’s debate, with his rivals piling on the 9-9-9 plan while he struggled to formulate a coherent defense of it (for example: “We are replacing the current tax code with orange”). It’s too soon to say for sure, but it may be that this marked a turning point for Cain’s candidacy, with Republicans who instinctively like him and the flat tax idea concluding that his plan is riddled with troubling imperfections and would make an easy target for Democrats — and that Cain himself is not nearly as strong a salesman as they initially thought.

If this is the case, it could mean that Cain’s days as the main alternative to Romney are numbered, and that there’s an opening for someone else to claim the role. It could also mean that there’s an opening for someone to present a more carefully-constructed flat tax plan, which seems to be what Perry is doing. Given the constant, almost comical upheaval that has marked the GOP race, there’s really no reason why Perry can’t gain back the ground he’s lost to Cain in the past few weeks, something that Steve Forbes, who built his 1996 GOP campaign around a 17 percent flat tax, predicted to the Daily Caller on Tuesday will happen:

“I’m elated by it,” Steve Forbes told me. “And I think Governor Perry will surge ahead of Herman Cain,” he said.

“Herman Cain gets credit of realizing the [current tax] code has to go [but] the virtue of what Governor Perry is doing is that he does not bring in a sales tax,” he said.

The challenge for Perry, if he is able to regain traction with his flat tax push, will be improving his own salesmanship. Exactly how he structures his plan remains to be seen, but the reality is that just about any flat tax proposal from a presidential candidate is going to have some significant flaws. He could (like Cain) faces charges that his plan is regressive. Or if he takes steps to guard against this (by imposing exempting incomes below a certain level from taxation or by maintaining certain tax deductions, for instance), his opponents could claim that the plan would blow a hole in the deficit.

Several previous presidential candidates have offered flat tax proposals, including Republicans Mike Huckabee, Dick Lugar, Phil Gramm and Forbes as well as Democrat Jerry Brown. The specifics of their plans all differed, but each received the same basic treatment Cain got from his fellow candidates on Tuesday night: Yeah, it’s a bold idea and it’s tempting, but…

So far, Perry’s debate performances suggest he’ll struggle to fend off that sort of attack. Which could be a problem because history suggests that it’s easy to get voters (especially Republican voters) excited about a flat tax, and just as easy to make them to go wobbly — something that Cain may be discovering now.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>