Ashley Cruseturner: Rick Perry Tamed the Tea Party





[Ashley Cruseturner teaches American history at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas.]

Last week in Texas, Rick Perry registered a definitive triumph in the Republican gubernatorial primary, capturing 51 percent of the vote in a fiercely contested three-person race. His comfortable victory offers a unique window into the upheaval currently roiling American politics.

When Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison decided back in 2008 to challenge Rick Perry for the governorship, she emerged as the favorite to unseat an incumbent who, seemingly, had overstayed his welcome and appeared vulnerable. The senator, poised, proven, and enormously popular, confidently entered the contest on an intimidating winning streak—unbeaten in five statewide races dating back to 1990.

Throughout much of 2008 and 2009, “Kay,” as she is affectionately known all over Texas, consistently out-polled the purportedly dull-witted and unprincipled “Governor Goodhair.” By the close of the contest, every major Texas daily and a whole host of Lone Star heavyweights (including President Bush-41, Barbara Bush, Dick Cheney, and Nolan Ryan) endorsed the challenger to no avail. When the voters finally cast their ballots, Senator Hutchison found herself not only in second place but twenty percentage points off the leader....

Did the Tea Party movement resurrect Perry?

Yes and No. In reality, the race featured a bona fide Tea Party candidate, Debra Medina, who persistently excoriated the incumbent governor as a pseudo-conservative—unreliable on state sovereignty and hopelessly addicted to high taxes, big spending, and politics as usual. Attractive, articulate, and an accomplished woman in her late forties, Medina struck many observers as a stouter version of Sarah Palin....

But, alas, March 2, Texas Primary Day 2010, arrived as an anticlimax: Hutchison, 30.3; Medina, 18.5; Perry 51 percent.

What happened to the Tea Party challenge?

In the end, Medina’s meteoric rise in the primary led to national recognition, which, ironically, derailed her upstart campaign with corresponding swiftness. During a fatal February interview with Glenn Beck, Medina bizarrely refused to repudiate the “9/11 Truther” paranoia. In one excruciating moment, the anti-establishment insurgent came away mortally punctured and careening wildly out of control—her campaign for mainstream Republican voters in Texas effectively dead....

Why did Perry win?

The most persuasive answer in this case happens to be the simplest. Texas dramatically emerged an island of stability in a tumultuous sea of uncertainty. Rick Perry happily ran for reelection as governor of arguably the most prosperous and fiscally responsible state in the Union and positioned himself as the embodiment of responsible, conservative, business-friendly government.

Detractors will argue that the Governor takes too much credit for the miraculous Texas prosperity—but that is how the game works. In fairness, his opponents would have merrily castigated him for mismanagement, if the economic fortunes of the Lone Star State had fallen into distress during his watch....


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Ashley Cruseturner - 3/11/2010

Thanks for your comment, Eve. This is a cogent summary of the Tea Party complaint against the Governor. And I think it makes my point that Texas Tea Partiers did not support Perry--but, nevertheless, quite obviously, he found a way to step over the Tea Party hazard and build a surprisingly powerful coalition of GOP voters.


Eve Stephens - 3/11/2010

"In fairness, his opponents would have merrily castigated him for mismanagement, if the economic fortunes of the Lone Star State had fallen into distress during his watch...."

Our state has fallen into distress on his watch! Without $12B in federal stimulus, we'd be in the hole now. Next year we are going into a $15-20B shortfall. We lost private sector jobs and he boosted the unemployment numbers by adding 130,000 new government jobs that WE have to pay for! I am a Republican, but will refuse to vote for Perry. We are tired of the cronyism, special interests, and back room deals. He will have to get reelected without my support.

The only "tea partiers" who voted for Perry are either the uneducated and uninformed, or the NEO-cons who are hijacking the movement.


Eve Stephens - 3/11/2010

"In fairness, his opponents would have merrily castigated him for mismanagement, if the economic fortunes of the Lone Star State had fallen into distress during his watch...."

Our state has fallen into distress on his watch! Without $12B in federal stimulus, we'd be in the hole now. Next year we are going into a $15-20B shortfall. We lost private sector jobs and he boosted the unemployment numbers by adding 130,000 new government jobs that WE have to pay for! I am a Republican, but will refuse to vote for Perry. We are tired of the cronyism, special interests, and back room deals. He will have to get reelected without my support.

The only "tea partiers" who voted for Perry are either the totally uneducated and informed, or the NEO-cons who are content with business as usual.