FrumForum’s contributors have been asked to provide their thoughts about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s candidacy and what it might mean for the GOP. Regardless of one’s political stance, one can see a difference between Rick Perry and former President George W. Bush with respect to how they portray themselves as candidates.
George W. Bush famously ran on a political program called compassionate conservatism. While I disagreed with a lot of President Bush’s policies, I don’t think that “compassionate conservative” was just a slogan. George W. Bush struck me (and still strikes me) as an empathetic person. At the very least he is someone who wanted his public image to reflect that sort of persona.
Rick Perry doesn’t strike me as someone who wants to appear particularly empathetic. I’m not saying that Rick Perry is someone who is uncaring towards others. I don’t know the man and I can’t comment on what his inner life is like. However, I think the public persona he presents is not that of someone who wants to make sure that “when someone is hurting, government has got to move“.
Perry has distanced himself from such views and has stated in his book Fed Up! that the “branding of compassionate conservatism meant that the GOP was sending the wrong signal, that conservatism alone wasn’t sufficient or worse yet, was somehow flawed and had to be re-branded”.
This has real implications for the campaign. Bush’s compassionate conservatism brought in many voters who might otherwise have been skeptical of voting for a GOP presidential candidate and this message seemed to resonate in a period of general peace and prosperity. Perry’s tone may be the right one for this era, this may not be a time in which compassion sells. It is possible that Rick Perry is the right messenger for an age of austerity.
Time will tell. While GOP primary voters may want someone who isn’t interested in putting a caveat on their conservatism, independent voters may feel otherwise.
In any case, I don’t think anyone should expect that if Rick Perry becomes the Republican nominee for President, his tenor and message will mirror that of George W. Bush just because they both were Republican Governors from Texas. The times are different and more importantly the cast of characters is different. George W. Bush did not want to come off like a hard man on the campaign trail. It looks to me like that’s exactly how Rick Perry wants to be portrayed.