Rick Perry and the Echoes of George W. Bush

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Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Texas governor Rick Perry speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference on June 18, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

George W. Bush is a fading memory in American politics as the country gets ready for the 17-month stretch to the presidential election in 2012. But watch the video of Gov. Rick Perry at the Republican Leadership Conference last Saturday and the memories come back fast.

That’s not entirely accidental.

Less than two minutes into his room-rousing speech, Perry coins Bush’s signature 2000 campaign phrase: “Conservative principles are not just sensible but they’re truly compassionate,” Perry says. And throughout the speech, Perry’s base-pleasing attacks on Washington, his robust defense of social conservative values and, above all else, his studied Texas swagger evoke Bush in his heyday.

Perry’s embrace of Bush’s memory makes sense. As W.’s successor in the Texas Governor’s mansion, the comparisons are going to be inevitable. More to the point, Bush echoes will be largely welcome for the GOP base, Perry’s potential target in the Republican primary.

But the Bush echoes cut both ways. Democrats will be equally reminded of Bush if and when they see Perry on the campaign trail, providing Obama a powerful grass-roots motivator and fund-raising foil. One can easily visualize the ads interspersing a Perry speech with old W. clips.

How the Bush echoes would play with independents is another matter. Perry won them last year in his reelection for a third term in Texas. But perhaps to the discomfort of some in the New Orleans crowd, Perry (inadvertently, one assumes) recollected Bush’s flyover of the city after Katrina. “Flying into New Orleans this morning,” he says, “Anita and I were looking out the window and were thinking about the destruction that visited this city when Katrina came through.”

Conjuring up the ghost of the popular George W. Bush while letting his despised doppelganger rest, forgotten, will be a challenge for candidate Perry if he joins the race.