If Rick Perry runs for president—as looks increasingly likely—it'll be on a platform of small-government fiscal conservatism. As Texas' Governor-for-life (10 years and counting) he's reined in out-of-control government spending and made the Lone Star State an economic oasis through his business-friendly tax code. That's Perry's argument, anyway, but there are just a few holes. For one, there's the fact that as governor, Perry created a structural deficit—that is, Texas is guaranteed a $10 billion deficit at the start of every two-year legislative session because his administration miscalculated the amount of revenue Perry's new franchise tax would bring in. He's also been less than heroic in how he's gone about closing those deficits. Last month, Perry and his allies closed the state's $27 billion deficit through, as the AP put it, "accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013." You know, tough choices.
Perry has long promoted the state's fiscal record as a model for the country and a key to why Texas has weathered the recession better than most other states. He has opposed new taxes and been vehemently anti-Washington, and his message is drawing interest among Republican primary voters nationwide.
Yet before the latest one, the Texas budget had consistently grown during Perry's time as governor, with total spending rising faster than inflation and population growth, state data show.
What's more, spending through 2011, adjusted for population and inflation, rose more on average while Perry has been in charge than it did under his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to a Star-Telegram analysis.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Given the kinds of services Perry has cut, you could make a pretty good case that he should have pushed for much larger budgets. And as the story notes, the budget increase mostly comes from federal funding—like the stimulus—rather than state-specific policies (which have decreased). But that's a far more nuanced picture than the anti-Washington, anti-spending small-government ideology he trumpets.
GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain has an Islam problem. The former Godfather's pizza godfather put his foot in his mouth early in his campaign when he told Think Progress he wouldn't appoint any Muslims in his administration (which would be unconstitutional), and again when he said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) wasn't loyal to the Constitution because he's Muslim, and again when he said he has never encountered an American Muslim who is loyal to the Constitution, and then again when he denied ever saying any of those things and blamed the media.
Now he's given up on walking back his statements and returned to his roots. On Thursday, Cain made a campaign stop in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Nashville satelite that's become a ground zero for the anti-Islam jihad. At the center of the controversy is the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, a local mosque that has been trying to expand its facilities. Opponents have alleged that the the mosque is secretly waging a (very, very) stealth jihad against the people of Middle Tennessee. The construction site has been subjected to arson, and the project itself was challenged in court by opponents who argued that Islam is not a religion and therefore is not entitled to First Amendment protections (The Justice Department said otherwise). Cain, evidently, agrees with the Murfreesboro anti-mosque activists:
Cain didn't bring up the controversial facility in a campaign rally on Thursday, but told reporters afterward that he's concerned about the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
"It is an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion," he said. "And I don't agree with what's happening, because this isn't an innocent mosque."
Cain decided very early in his campaign that to have any sort of impact, he needed to stake out a position on the far right. But now, as Politico notes, he's now gone so far to the right he's gone back in time to August, 2010, when the number-one threat to the country was the construction of a mosque in downtown Manhattan.
Walter Shapiro has an excellent profile of Tim Pawlenty over at The New Republic. The most immediate takeaway—literally, it's in the lede—is Pawlenty's shift in tone when he starts talking about his fellow Minnesota Republican, Rep. Michele Bachmann:
[Midway] through the interview, desperate for a headline-making morsel about his home-state rival, I asked Pawlenty to respond to the assessment that he was the establishment and Bachmann was the outsider in Minnesota politics. To my surprise, Pawlenty sprang to life. He spent the next four minutes vehemently disputing my premise.
"Pawlenty has always been the establishment in Minnesota and Bachmann has always been the renegade," says University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs. "Pawlenty thought that she was kind of a crackpot. He would roll his eyes when her name came up." Democrat Roger Moe—the former longtime majority leader of the state Senate who lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Pawlenty—describes his rival as "the kind of guy you can have a beer with" despite their political differences. But Moe cannot resist chuckling: "I can just tell you—I know for sure on the inside of him—that Tim Pawlenty is just seething over Bachmann. I bet they have to lock him in a room some days when he reads about her."
Pawlenty's biggest flaw, in the eyes of media types, is that he has no discernible edge. As one Minnesota Republican told me last month: "He should hire someone to give him a personality." And she was a supporter! When Bachmann becomes part of the conversation, though, Pawlenty shifts immediately from Minnesota Nice to Minnesota Passive-Aggressive.
But the iciness goes much deeper than superficial jealousy. When the two were both in St. Paul, Bachmann attacked Pawlenty with a nearly identical arsenal of barbs that she currently directs at President Obama—right down to the allegations of Soviet-style economics. As we've reported previously, Pawlenty's signature jobs program as governor, which he likes to talk about on the stump, was a system of of tax-free zones designed to keep local businesses from leaving for neighboring states. The program, called JOBZ, was kind of a flop. But Bachmann saw something far more sinister: As she told a conference in 2003, "Tax-free zones are meant to be the catalyst to put the final nail in this system to have a state-planned economy." She railed against the plan as a redistribution of wealth, and framed it in the larger context of a push for what she called a "Soviet-style" economy, in which bureaucrats, businesses, and public schools would work together to create an economy that matched their own globalistic vision.
So yeah, Pawlenty likely thought Bachmann was a crackpot. And there was one more thing. One of Pawlenty's sore spots from his time as governor was his tax hike. As part of a deal he struck to end a government shutdown in 2006, he agreed to an extra 75-cent/pack charge on cigarettes, which he called a "health impact fee." Conservatives read that as a tax (which it was), and hammered him for it, but Pawlenty doggedly stuck with the name and hoped that Republicans would cut him some slack, considering he was governor and he had to cut some sort of deal with the Democratic legislature. He wasn't going to get it from Bachmann, who almost immediately introduced a bill to repeal the tax. Salt, meet wound.
Another way of thinking about this? Tim Pawlenty is Frank Grimes:
One of Rep. Michele Bachmann's more controversial associations is her relationship with Bradlee Dean, a heavy-metal drummer who runs an anti-gay ministry in her district called You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International. As we reported in May, Dean has stated unequivocally that homosexuality is illegal. Not that it should be illegal, but that it is currently a crime, and that gays are legally barred from holding public office. (News of the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas travels slowly.) Dean also believes that gay marriage is part of secret Muslim plot to impose Islamic Sharia law on the general populace, and that President Obama has cut the nation loose from its Constitutional moorings. This despite the fact that Dean was until recently a member of a sovereign citizen organization that requires supporters to renounce their American citizenship. Bachmann has raised money for Dean's organization and prayed for the group to turn Minnesota into a "burning incense." "Thank you now for this time," she said, "and pour a double blessing, Lord, a triple blessing onto this ministry."
The fact that Bachmann was scheduled to appear alongside Dean at the "Tea Party Jamboree" in Kansas City, Kansas, in September was, all things considered, kind of a big deal. The event's lineup was problematic as well: Jerome Corsi, author of the birther manifesto Where's the Birth Certificate?, was scheduled to attend, as was his boss at WorldNetDaily, Joseph Farah. With Bachmann, guided by chief strategist Ed Rollins, attempting to rebrand herself as a kinder, gentler conservative candidate, would she stay the course? Now, Andy Birkey reports, she won't have to make that choice; the entire event has been called off:
So Bachmann dodged a bullet. Meanwhile, this isn't going to do anything to quell suggestions that Vander Plaats, whose marriage pledge has been rebuked by GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and fellow contender Tim Pawlenty, has lost his mojo.
Since being unveiled last Thursday, the Iowa Family Leader's "Marriage Vow" has caused a bit of controversy. The pledge, which the influential conservative group says is a prerequisite for an endorsement, included language—since removed—suggesting that black families were more stable during the days slavery than they are today. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were quick to sign on, but the rest of the GOP contenders took a more cautious approach. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman issued a non-response, saying that he doesn't sign any pledges; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he's still studying it. After remaining mum on the issue, though, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has finally made up his mind:
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney, told The Associated Press in a written statement Tuesday that Romney "strongly supports traditional marriage," but that the oath "contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign."
It's unclear which parts of the pledge Team Romney found so undignified and inappropriate but there a bunch of contenders: the aforementioned slavery bit, the comparison of gay marriage to polygamy, the proposed ban on pornography, and the rejection of Sharia-compliant Islam (which is, essentially, all Islam). Given Romney's previous support for the rights of gay couples, his embrace of abortion rights, and his recent defense of the patriotism and religious freedom of American Muslims, the pledge would have marked an abrupt shift in tone even for Romney. His explicit rejection of the document is yet another sign the front-runner is swearing off social conservative red-meat this time around, after playing to the base (and failing) in 2008.
At least in this case, it was a smart move. By staying mum on the pledge for a few days, Romney allowed Bachmann to seize the initiative and fall flat, he gave the Family Leader time to acknowledge that its pledge was actually a bit extreme in parts, and he made Tim Pawlenty—who is still reading the pledge, apparently, so don't distract him—look awkward and dithering.