By the looks of Republican Rick Perry’s happy-go-lucky mug shot and recent public comments, the Texas governor and potential 2016 presidential contender isn’t too worried about coming under indictment for alleged abuse of power. But should he be? If it appears to Republican voters that Perry is the victim of partisan politics, they might be more inclined to support him. But if witnesses close to Perry take the stand and are forced to divulge details, he could be done.
“It seems like there’s at least a case to be made that the indictment is political,” Michael Heaney, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, told International Business Times. “I know it’s a negative attention, but who else are the Republican candidates? I’m not so sure. All you’re trying to do is keep your name in the conversation.”
Perry is facing charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant for threatening to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat who was arrested on drunken driving charges in April 2013, resigned. Lehmberg did step down, but Perry and his high-powered legal team said the governor was within his constitutional rights to demand Lehmberg’s resignation and use the veto against her. Perry called the indictment "outrageous" and "a farce of a prosecution." Liberals, including former Obama adviser David Axelrod, lawyer Alan Dershowitz and the New York Times, have defended the Texas governor.
Not only is Perry keeping his name in the conversation of possible Republican 2016 candidates, but he’s also trying to fatten his campaign coffers off the indictment. RickPAC, his political action committee, is selling T-shirts featuring Perry’s mug shot on the front that read WANTED FOR SECURING THE BORDER AND DEFEATING DEMOCRATS. The back of the shirt has Lehmberg’s mug shot and reads GUILTY: DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED AND PERVISION OF JUSTICE. It sells for $25. It’s unclear how big a financial benefit Perry will get from the indictment, but RickPAC spokesman Mark Miner said online donations to the committee "have been tremendous" since the legal action. He said the contributions were mostly small donations, and the mug shot t-shirts are "selling briskly." The next Federal Election Commission filing deadline is Sept. 20.
â€” TexJal (@TXJAL) August 23, 2014
The indictment has also afforded Perry more opportunities to get his message out, such as his ongoing criticism of President Barack Obama’s immigration policy. But all the attention could prove to be his downfall if there are any significant missteps. There’s already been at least one major flap -- Perry appeared not to understand the indictment against him, incorrectly describing one of the charges as “bribery.”
“If he doesn’t have a message that appeals to Republican voters, then this isn’t going to help him,” Heaney said of the indictment.
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, predicted Perry's ascension will be short-lived if the case goes to trial. Perry’s lawyers are trying to get the charges dismissed.
“I think it’s a short-term positive because he’s played his response to the indictment so well,” Jillson told IBT. “Perry was already beginning a rise from sort-of laughing-stock back into the status of legitimate contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. But it’s very early and soon the public relations phase of this will be over and the legal phase will begin."
Barring a dismissal, The State of Texas v. James Richard “Rick” Perry is expected to get underway in January, around the same time that prospective 2016 candidates will likely launch their campaigns.
Joe Fuld, a Democratic political consultant and founder of The Campaign Workshop in Washington, D.C., said it will be difficult for Perry to focus on a presidential campaign at the same time he’s fighting abuse of power charges.
“It just frankly isn’t presidential,” Fuld said of being under indictment. “It still is a distraction for him trying to show he’s going to become president versus putting together a defense. I just think getting your ideas out in the context of a lawsuit you’re defending is not a great thing.”
Like other potential 2016 GOP contenders, Perry will be battling for the most effective political operatives and major donors. And they’re going to want to be on the side of a candidate who has a strong possibility of winning the presidency.
“They’re all looking for a fast horse,” Jillson said.