Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the latest frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has taken positions so radical that it's difficult to imagine how he could compete in the general election if nominated. His are not just a handful of ill-advised statements, as is the case with many candidates. He may be more extreme even than Michele Bachmann, who has come to symbolize the arrival of the far right to the Republican mainstream. In fact, it is hard to think of a single first-tier, major-party candidate in history whose positions have been so consistently radical.
Individually, some of these positions are commonplace in today's Republican Party. But the candidate who holds all of them at once faces a serious uphill battle against even a weakened President Obama.
Here are 10 of the most extreme positions Perry has taken, and why they might hurt his chances in the general election, even if they help him in the Republican primary:
10. He called Social Security anti-American.
Perry blasted Social Security in his 2010 book, Fed Up, saying it was created at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government and was a violent assault on American values. He also compared the program to an illegal Ponzi scheme, in which there won't be enough money later on to support the workers who are paying into the system now.
He vacillates between rhetoric that implies he wants to dismantle Social Security and rhetoric that implies he wants to reform and fix it, and it has never been clear exactly what he would do as president. While it is undeniable that Social Security is in bad shape financially and many people support reforming it, the program itself is very popular. If voters believe Perry would cut Social Security or reform it in undesirable ways, they will be less likely to vote for him. Politico noted that this will probably be a key factor in Florida, which has a large elderly population and whose 29 electoral votes could decide the 2012 election.
9. He opposed raising the debt ceiling.
Republican politicians demanded huge spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, but most understood that it did ultimately need to be raised. Perry, however -- like fellow presidential candidate Michele Bachmann -- said flat-out while the debate was raging that he did not believe it was necessary to raise the ceiling to avoid economic damage. There's still going to be revenues flowing in, so I think this threat that somehow or another the world is going to come to an end and the threat of, 'We're not going to be able to pay our bills,' is a bit of a stretch, he said. Most Americans know this: we've spent too much money. We've gotten our house in bad shape, and we need to stop spending.
Like Bachmann, Perry was also criticized for glossing over the fact that cutting spending was a separate issue from paying for expenses already incurred.
8. He doesn't believe in evolution or climate change.
He told a child at a campaign stop in New Hampshire last month that evolution was a theory that's out there. It's got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution. And in July, before he announced his candidacy, he said there were clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn't happen by accident and a creator put this in place. He did not specify who those intellectuals were or what gaps he saw in the theory of evolution.
At the same campaign stop in New Hampshire, he dismissed the idea of climate change caused by human activity. I think we're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change, he said. I don't think from my perspective that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question. Again, he did not give any examples of the scientists he referred to.
Neither evolution nor climate change has as much public support as one might think -- a 2010 Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans thought the threat of global warming had been exaggerated -- but even so, outright denials like Perry's are very risky for someone who wants to be president.
7. He has suggested repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments.
Perry supports several changes to the Constitution, some of which -- like an amendment banning same-sex marriage -- are fairly common among conservatives. But others are extreme from any angle. He said in his book that he wanted to repeal the 16th Amendment, which permits a federal income tax, calling it a milestone on the road to serfdom. Tax cuts are standard Republican fare, but it is unusual to hear a front-running candidate for a major office advocate eliminating the income tax entirely.
He also opposes the 17th Amendment, which provides for the popular election of senators. (Before it was ratified, senators were elected by the state legislatures, as per Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution.) In a 2010 interview with Andrew Romano of The Daily Beast, Perry claimed that direct election transferred power from the states to the federal government. The states were historically more in control when they decided who those senators were going to be, he said. So that's the historic concept of checks and balances, when you had the concept of the federal government and the states. The 17th Amendment is when the states started getting out of balance with the federal government, is my belief.
Never mind that checks and balances refers to the division of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches, not to the division of power between the federal and state governments, which is properly referred to as federalism. In any case, the logic behind Perry's argument is difficult to understand -- what real power does the federal government gain if individuals in each state elect their senators rather than the state legislatures electing them? -- and it is such a radical position, even among conservatives, that it is likely to alienate many voters.
6. He wants to set judicial term limits and let Congress override Supreme Court decisions.
Another constitutional amendment Perry has suggested would set term limits for federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. We should take steps to restrict the unlimited power of the courts to rule over us with no accountability, he wrote in his book. One proposal, for example, would have judges roll off every two years based on seniority. Perry is far from alone in arguing that federal judges are unaccountable to the American people or that they overstep their bounds by legislating from the bench. However, the purpose of lifetime tenure for judges was to ensure that they would not become overly partisan or ideological, which they would be more likely to do if they were subject to reappointment or dismissal. Given this, term limits are unlikely to play well with voters, either Republican or Democratic.
Even more controversially, Perry suggested allowing Congress to override Supreme Court decisions by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. To his credit, he did acknowledge that this could result in increased politicization of judicial decisions, but he concluded that it was worth it because it would stop the court from unilaterally deciding policy. This seems like a real political nonstarter, even and perhaps especially among Perry's fellow Republicans, who have long excoriated activist judges for politically charged decisions.
5. He is the most anti-abortion governor in Texas history.
Perry believes abortion should be illegal except in the case of rape or incest, or if the mother's life is in danger. This is a very common position among conservatives, but Perry stands out in terms of the sheer number of anti-abortion laws he has passed as governor. He supported bills to establish a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and to require minors to get parental permission. Other bills required doctors to inform women seeking abortions that the procedure could increase their risk of breast cancer, or to perform a sonogram and describe the fetus to the woman. He supported the unsuccessful congressional effort to eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even for its non-abortion health services, and he signed the Susan B. Anthony List pledge to appoint only anti-abortion judges and cabinet members.
A voter who supports abortion rights would probably be more inclined to look past a candidate's opposition to abortion and vote for him or her anyway if there weren't such a paper trail, so to speak. The Texas Tribune recently interviewed Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, and wrote, What worries NARAL's Miller about Perry is his determination. Miller said that ideologically, there's little difference between the position of Bush and Perry on abortion -- but that Perry's tone feels much more vehement. Pro-choice voters will fear that, with Rick Perry as president, Roe v. Wade would be threatened in a way it has not been under any other president, even those who opposed abortion -- and this fear would not be unfounded. After all, Perry said in January, We can't afford to give up the good fight until the day Roe v. Wade is nothing but a shameful footnote in our nation's history books.
4. He supports nullification and once suggested that Texas secede from the Union.
The doctrine of nullification, in which a state claims the right to reject and refuse to enforce a federal law, was discredited a long time ago -- in 1832, specifically, when South Carolina declared the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional. Congress responded by authorizing President Andrew Jackson to deploy the military, and after a new tariff was negotiated, South Carolina abandoned its nullification attempt in March 1833.
But in June, more than 170 years after the Nullification Crisis, the Texas legislature passed a bill to let any incandescent light bulb manufactured in Texas and sold in this state avoid the authority of the federal government or the repeal of the 2007 energy independence act that starts phasing out some incandescent light bulbs next year, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported -- and Perry signed it into law. With this bill, the state is outright refusing to enforce a federal law. Defending states' rights under the 10th Amendment is one thing, but using a rejected, pre-Civil War tactic is not going to get Perry many votes.
In 2009, he also implied that Texas would consider seceding if the Obama administration kept pursuing policies he found objectionable. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it, he said of the United States, but if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. Many commentators and voters have noted how incongruous it seems for Perry to be running for president of a nation from which he suggested, even in passing, that his state might secede.
3. He questions the patriotism of top government officials.
If this guy 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, Perry said of the possibility that Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, would order the purchase of trillions of dollars of bonds in order to boost the economy. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous in my opinion. Of the Federal Reserve as an institution, he said a full audit would go a long way toward either finding out whether or not there is some activities that are improper or that they've been handling themselves quite well. But until they do that, I think there will continue to be questions about their activity and what their true goal is for the United States. Even Karl Rove, Republican strategist extraordinaire, called Perry's remarks unpresidential.
Perry also appeared to question President Obama's patriotism in a remark he made to Danny Yadron of The Wall Street Journal. Asked whether a previous comment meant that he thought Obama didn't love the country, Perry said, I don't know, you need to ask him. On another occasion, he implied that members of the military did not respect Obama as their commander-in-chief and criticized Obama for never serving in the military. If you polled the military, the active duty and veterans, and said, 'Would you rather have a president of the United States that never served a day in the military or someone who is a veteran?' they're going to say, I would venture, that they would like to have a veteran, he said. The president had the opportunity to serve his country. I'm sure at some time he made the decision that isn't what he wanted to do.
If he wants to win the election, Perry would do better to attack Obama's policies than to attack his patriotism. We saw how well focusing on Obama's birth certificate worked for Donald Trump.
2. He mixes religion and politics openly and unapologetically.
Public declarations of faith are not an obstacle for presidential candidates. In some ways, they have practically become a requisite: an apparent lack of religious belief could be very damaging to a presidential campaign. But Perry takes it several steps further. For example, on Aug. 6, he held a prayer rally in Houston, which he concluded with the following: Lord, you are the source of every good thing. You are our only hope. And we stand before you today in awe of your power and in gratitude for your blessings, in humility for our sins. Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see angers in the halls of government. And as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.
The potential political quicksand here was not the profession of belief or even the public prayer: it was the appeal for forgiveness because the United States had forgotten its debt to God and to the Christian faith. That raised a host of uncomfortable questions about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.
In April, as Texas suffered through a drought more severe than anything it had seen since the Dust Bowl, Perry officially designated three days as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. His proclamation read in part, Whereas throughout our history, both as a state and as individuals, Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer; it seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires. The three days of prayer did not bring rain -- more than four months later, the drought continues -- but they did bring public ridicule from Perry's critics, and they will likely be even more of a problem when it comes time to win over the general electorate, rather than just Republicans.
1. He contradicts himself.
At first glance, Perry's positions seem rock-solidly consistent, if extreme. He is a staunch supporter of states' rights, for example, and in July, he told reporters in Houston, You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don't. You can't believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then something that doesn't suit you, say, 'We'd rather not have states decide that.' An admirable principle -- except he hasn't followed it.
After New York legalized gay marriage in June, he stood by his words for a while. You know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me. That is their call, he said. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business. But he soon changed his mind. I do respect a state's right to have a different opinion and take a different tack, if you will. California did that, he said in August. I respect that right, but our Founding Fathers also said, 'Listen, if you all in the future think things are so important that you need to change the Constitution, here's the way you do it.' It is rather difficult to reconcile that last statement -- that some things are so important that the federal government should override the states -- with his previous statement that a 10th Amendment advocate cannot just make an exception for something that doesn't suit you.
Then there is his unwavering commitment to small government -- except when it comes to homosexual sodomy, which Texas once banned. The Supreme Court found the ban unconstitutional in its landmark Lawrence v. Texas ruling in 2003, and Perry was infuriated, even though the ruling was consistent with his own stated belief that the government should not interfere in individuals' personal lives. As these and other inconsistencies come into the open, many supporters will stick with Perry regardless, but others will almost certainly walk away.