Rick Perry took some serious heat for what was perceived as a less-than-sterling performance in the Sept. 22 Republican presidential debate in Orlando.
In my book, the Texas governor remains a very strong candidate for the GOP nomination, because of all the GOP candidates, he has one of the best records of governing as a sensible conservative.
For sure, debates help provide us insights about a candidate, but the most important criteria for me is a candidate's past track record. In this regard, Perry shines brilliantly — he’s still got game.
I had a front-row seat at the Orlando debate, where I thought Perry’s energy level seemed unusually low. New to the national stage, Perry apparently had shown up for the debate after days of marathon campaigning.
Though he fell short of expectations that night, I had a different take on the evening. Perry is a candidate who actually believes in something, a rare quality these days.
This summer, I visited with Perry in Austin. In private, he’s extremely engaging, and he responds pensively to questions.
Publicly, Perry has developed a reputation as a “quick draw” — offering fiery, sometimes exaggerated, talk. For example, Perry has been busy fending off attacks from his GOP rivals over his view that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” assuring voters that he would preserve the program for those on it or near retirement and fix it for younger workers.
Perry has maintained consistently that the first step to fixing Social Security is to admit the program has problems. Though impolitic, his comments have been courageous. There is no doubt he is right: We will have a problem with Social Security.
I also liked that Perry stood his ground on his immigration positions. As Texas’ governor, Perry holds a strong record in securing our border and reducing illegal immigration. He backed Arizona’s anti-illegal law and had Texas join to support the law in its subsequent legal fight with the Department of Justice.
He has poured state resources into securing its border with Mexico. Still, Perry has angered many by defending his support for giving children of illegal immigrants in-state college tuition.
He stated at the Orlando debate that those who did not support the tuition program might not have “a heart.”
Later, in an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Perry said he regretted the comment and said he was “a bit over-passionate” in his remarks.
It’s important to remember that Perry has never embraced some of the hair-brained schemes that have been cooked up for illegals, such as giving them welfare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Perry believes, as I do, that tuition breaks are a small investment that can go a long way in helping make these undocumented immigrants into productive citizens. America cannot long survive as a robust economic engine if we create a permanent underclass.
This is why even many conservatives agree that children of illegals, who themselves did not break the law, should be allowed a public education, and even tuition breaks at state colleges.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has come out in support of Perry’s tuition program, calling a similar proposal in Florida “fair policy.”
Perry has laid the major blame for the immigration problem on the federal government, telling Newsmax in a recent interview that illegal immigration wouldn’t be a problem “if the federal government had simply done its job through the years to secure our borders.”
He’s right, of course.
The bottom line is that Perry has compiled a solid conservative record since switching from Democrat to Republican in 1989.
As governor, he has refused to raise taxes in Texas and vetoed more than $3 billion in proposed spending, becoming the first Texas governor since 1945 to reduce general-revenue spending.
He angered his state’s trial attorneys by enacting the strongest tort reform law in the nation, including the provision that the loser should pay almost all the costs of a failed lawsuit.
He approved budgets investing billions in education, but criticized George W. Bush’s intervention in education under “No Child Left Behind.”
His policies on taxes and tort reform have encouraged business activity in Texas, which has accounted for more than 40 percent of all new jobs created in the country since 2009.
In my view, no other candidate in the race can lay claim to a better record of conservative governance.
Perry’s main problem, as I see it, is that, even though he has been governor of the country’s second-most-populous state for more than 10 years, he has been a relatively unknown in Republican and media circles. This has left many who are unfamiliar with his track record to form an opinion of him today based on isolated comments he has made and from media spin.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has sought to dismiss Perry’s candidacy by suggesting he lacks the former Massachusetts governor’s business experience. I don’t buy it.
First, Perry has solid military experience as an Air Force pilot, serving for five years and rising to the rank of captain. This counts a lot in my book.
Perry also has done a great job governing Texas — that’s the important thing.
While I believe Romney is a good man and would be a fine president, he also carries the stigma of the healthcare reform he instituted in Massachusetts, which has led to a sharp spike in healthcare costs in the state.
The Romney program is eerily similar to Obamacare in that it mandated every citizen to get private health insurance. Obamacare is one of the key reasons President Obama should be defeated in 2012. How does the GOP make that argument if Romney is the nominee?
For his part, Perry says a repeal of Obamacare is the “highest calling for whoever is the next president.”
It is still early in the race, and Perry has time to help people better understand him. As GOP voters mull their choice for president, they should ask themselves who has the experience and track record to be the type of president this nation so desperately needs.
Posts by Christopher Ruddy
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