Rick Perry vs. Ben Bernanke

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The first question posed by Rick Perry’s much-ballyhooed entry into the GOP presidential race was whether he would run to the center, targeting Mitt Romney and positioning himself for the general election, or whether he would stay in his Tea Party comfort-zone on the right wing. It’s an indicator of the success of Michele Bachmann’s disciplined campaign that Perry has run right to challenge her. Last night, in response to a question about the Federal Reserve, Perry said:

I know there’s a lot of talk and what have you about if this guy [Bernanke] prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treason, in my opinion.

Let’s leave aside the substantive issue here: Which is more damaging to the country, Bernanke’s deliberate efforts to prevent a global credit freeze or Perry’s pandering to those who believe our economic well-being depends not on the health of the credit markets but on God’s beneficence or the intentional redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the super-rich? Let’s also ignore for now whether Perry’s comment was intentional or not.

Perry’s embrace of Tea Party economic theory, instinctive or calculated, is bad news for the GOP. The party’s strongest play in 2012 is on competency–Romney has been most effective in the field so far when he has cataloged the attempts and failures of the Obama administration to rapidly fix the ailing economy. The fact that Perry strayed from his centrist job-creation message raises questions about the durability of the establishmentarians’ love affair with him (see the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page) and about the GOP’s ability to unite on economic issues.

Perhaps Perry will knuckle down and impose message discipline–it’s early days. But the Bernanke comments help explain why Karl Rove is still pleading with others to get in the race. Yesterday on Sean Hannity’s show, Rove said:

I think we are likely to see several other candidates think seriously about getting in. And frankly, they have time to do so. November 22nd is the first deadline to file papers to get on the ballot. … I think Palin … is gonna look seriously at it. … Palin has got a pretty active schedule in early September. I think Chris Christie and Paul Ryan are gonna look at it again … I’m starting to pick up some sort of vibrations that … Christie and Ryan [are telling] the people who are calling them, ‘You know what, I owe it to you, I’ll take a look at it.’

This could mean one of two things: Either people who’ve spoken to Christie and Ryan have told Rove they are still thinking of getting in the race. Or, more likely in my opinion, it’s more plaintive: I have the image of Rove calling Ryan and Christie (again and again) and pestering them to have a look at the race. And the two men coming up with the same way to get off the phone.