Rick Perry’s awkward courtship of the Republican party reminds me a lot of the jig Sarah Palin performed right after the 2008 campaign. Unsure of whether to go the establishment route, Palin made overtures inside the Beltway before finally breaking with them and going with Tea Party. So, I thought it might be instructive to look back at some of the lessons Rick Perry can take from Palin’s base whispering.
1) Man up. Perry shouldn’t apologize for his shortcomings in debates or speeches. And his wife shouldn’t cry at a public speech about how brutalized he’s been by his rivals – can you imagine Todd doing that? It’s only been six weeks. This will only get worse next year if he’s the nominee. Palin proved you could whine about the national press all you like, but you can’t complain about your rivals or wallow in self-pity over your own performance. When she did — she once used the term “blood libel” — she got savaged. The same is true for Perry.
2) Energy policy isn’t a complete platform on its own. Just about the only national issue Palin was comfortable talking about in 2008 and 2009 was domestic energy. Rick Perry is sounding just like her with his recent announcement of a jobs plan that focused almost exclusively on that topic. Energy may be important to Alaska and Texas, but in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, it is no where near the top issue for voters. Palin diversified – health reform, Libya, all those op-eds in the Wall Street Journal on the economy. Her whole second book was a love note to Katie Couric about what she does read – which, if it’s to be believed, is everything from Alexis de Tocqueville to Donald Rumsfeld. She may not be known as the most intellectually curious politician around, but she at least showed she wasn’t a one-trick pony. We’re still waiting for Perry’s other tricks.
3) Sucking up to the establishment won’t work. Its members don’t like Perry. They probably never will. And sucking up to them loses him street cred on the right. Palin realized this about herself by the summer of 2009, right before she upturned the race for New York’s 23 congressional district by endorsing conservative candidate Doug Hoffman over her party’s pick. Perry isn’t going to win the nomination by becoming Mitt Romney. In fact, Perry’s best shot at winning may be going hard right and rallying the diehards. This wouldn’t work in the general election, but Perry will never make it out of the primary if he can’t inspire base voters better than Romney. Historically it’s been important to get the establishment nod, but Perry is running because this is the Tea Party’s moment and in order to harness it he must distance himself from the powers that be.