Rick Perry’s pathetic makeover: Conservatives, media fall for lame “comeback”

While media fawns over his "new" persona, he's still the same grotesque person from '12. But now he wears glasses!

Topics: Rick Perry, Washington Post, The Fix, The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes, Jennifer Rubin, Death Penalty, meet the press, David Gregpry, Media Criticism, Media, conservative media, 2016 Elections, Editor's Picks, ,

Rick Perry's pathetic makeover: Conservatives, media fall for lame "comeback"Rick Perry (Credit: AP/Justin Hayworth)

The Washington Post’s political blog/conventional wisdom extruder The Fix served up a smoking take Friday on a certain Texas governor who might run for president again: “Rick Perry. So hot right now.” Their case was, by their own admission, pretty weak: an Iowa poll of potential 2016 candidates that showed Perry taking seven (7) percent of the vote, and a Gallup poll showing Perry with the third-highest net favorability rating among the GOP 2016 wannabes. “None of this is to say that Perry should instantly be seen as a 2016 contender,” The Fix wrote in their post ostensibly about Perry’s hotness, “but never under-estimate the appeal of a political reclamation story.”

That appeal seems to be what Team Perry is banking on. There’s a big push happening right now by the Perry camp and the conservative media to take advantage of the absurdly low expectations Perry set with his shambolic 2012 presidential campaign and recast him as a serious and credible political figure. He’s still the same right-wing knucklehead who jogs with guns and compares homosexuality to alcoholism and takes grim delight in setting records for executing prisoners. But now he wears glasses and doesn’t stumble for words on stage. It’s a new Rick Perry!

Perry’s “transformation” is the subject of a long Weekly Standard piece by Fred Barnes, who writes that “Rick Perry is no longer dead. He is alive, well, and hyperactive as a national political figure.” Barnes, who is known for being absurdly sympathetic toward Republican politicians, was mightily impressed by everything Perry has done to reinvent himself, including the time Perry Googled some stuff while smart people talked to him:

This spring, Perry brought teams of advisers to Austin. Three economists from AEI — Kevin Hassett, Michael Strain, Stan Veuger — expected to meet with Perry’s staff, then with him. Perry showed up with his staff. As they talked, Perry checked on facts and issues online. The AEI group stayed for dinner. Perry gave them a personal tour of the governor’s mansion.

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Pretty much everything Perry’s done over the past few months, no matter how trivial, gets an approving nod from Barnes. Appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”? “This was risky.” Announcing he wouldn’t shake the president’s hand on the tarmac when he visited Texas? “Quick-witted politicians jump on opportunities.” (Perry ended up shaking Obama’s hand anyway.)

The consensus, touted by Barnes and other members of the conservative press, is that Perry has shrewdly used the burgeoning crisis at the border to boost his national profile. “In 2014 we see a more mature and humbled version of Perry, one without the Texas swagger. It is that more serious figure, bespectacled and more relaxed, whom voters now see,” wrote Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin last week.

That same “serious” and “mature” Rick Perry had, just a few weeks previous, accused the Obama administration of somehow orchestrating the surge of undocumented immigrant children coming over the border. “We either have an incredibly inept administration or they’re in on this somehow or another,” Perry said on Fox News. “I hate to be conspiratorial, but how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico and into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?”

When Perry was pressed on this “conspiratorial” nonsense, he defended it. “I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept, or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from,” Perry said on ABC News. That’s a crazy thing to say (twice) on national television. But he didn’t say “oops!” at any point, so that must mean he’s “maturing” as a politician.

A key part of the Rick Perry reinvention strategy was hinted at in Barnes’ article — the cooperation of the media:

Perry’s high point on television, his aides believe, was his appearance in May on “Meet the Press.” They base this on the positive feedback Perry received for his forceful criticism of Obama. The president, Perry said, “all too often, whether it’s on health care, or whether it’s on education, or whether it’s on how states deal with the death penalty — he looks for a one-size-fits-all solution centric to Washington, D.C. That’s one of the problems we have in this country.”

The only reason Perry’s appearance on “Meet the Press” this past May can be considered a “high point” is because it was simultaneously a low point for that program’s host, David Gregory. Perry’s appearance came immediately after the gruesome “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, and Perry, who has overseen more executions than any governor in modern history, has faced a lot of controversy in his state over death row exonerations and the (possible) execution of innocent prisoners. Gregory didn’t ask him about any of this, but instead let Perry serve up the rote attack on Obama that Barnes quoted above.

That’s how the “new Rick Perry” will come into being — with an assist from members of the media who can’t focus on Perry’s ridiculous and grotesque policy record because they’re too awestruck by his newfound ability to not gaffe in every waking moment.

Simon Maloy

Simon Maloy is Salon's political writer. Email him at smaloy@salon.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SimonMaloy.

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