Perry, Bush have long history of acrimony
The relationship between George W. Bush and Rick Perry has been cool at best, and a hostility lingers between their top advisers.
Los Angeles Times
AUSTIN, Texas —
Rick Perry was in Iowa three years ago, talking up a favored candidate, when the subject turned to President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican who preceded Perry as Texas governor.
Bush, or "George" as Perry called him, was no fiscal conservative — "never was" — and his work on tort reform, a subject dear to Republican hearts, paled next to Perry's achievements, the governor said.
"I mean, '95, '97, '99," Perry went on, elaborately ticking the years off on his fingers. "George Bush was spending money!"
Those are fighting words among Republicans — especially Texas Republicans, who pride themselves on their stinginess — and even more so to Bush loyalists who still simmer over Perry's off-the-cuff remarks at a house party for White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani. (How dare Perry slap the president like that, the Bush faithful fume, and refer to the leader of the free world as George!)
If Perry runs for president, critics hope to tie him to Bush and those who delivered the self-assured Texan to the Oval Office.
"Is America ready for a president who was George W. Bush's lieutenant governor, who was George W. Bush's successor as governor ... and who, like George W. Bush, was also a Karl Rove puppet?" taunts Democratic consultant Garry South, referring to Bush's strategist.
But that jibe ignores what has been, at best, a cool relationship between Bush and Perry, and a lingering hostility between their top advisers.
The two share some characteristics, sometimes unnervingly so. They have similar accents, the same cowboy gait and many of the same mannerisms. But they come from starkly different backgrounds, approach politics in utterly different fashions and draw support from different parts of the GOP. It is the difference, said a consultant who has worked with both, between Yale and Texas A&M, between Phillips Academy Andover and Paint Creek High School.
To a certain upper crust of Republican, "Perry is the low-rent country cousin" who lacks Bush's prep-school polish, said R.G. Ratcliffe, a longtime student of Texas politics who is writing a book about Perry. "They see him as a hick and are embarrassed having someone like that as governor."
Privately, the former president has spoken of his successor as a political lightweight and someone not all that bright. Perry scoffs behind closed doors at Bush's privileged background and popularity among country-club Republicans, suggesting the New England native is merely a faux Texan.
Perry's story is the kind of up-by-his-bootstraps saga that Bush might have scripted for himself, had he been able.
The current governor grew up in West Texas, in a town so small it literally was not on the state map until Perry, as governor, put it there. Life on the farm was austere; Perry was 6 before the family had indoor plumbing. His mother sewed his clothes, including the underwear he wore to college.
He graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in animal science, joined the Air Force, then returned to farming. He ran for a state House seat on a whim in 1984, as a Democrat, and won.
In 1990, under Rove's tutelage, Perry switched parties and was elected to the agriculture commission. He ran for lieutenant governor eight years later. By then, Rove was working for Bush; the conflict between their camps grew out of that year's races.
Bush had been elected governor in 1994 and already was eyeing a run for president. Facing a weak opponent, he wanted to win re-election overwhelmingly and lift his numbers among blacks and Latinos to show crossover appeal. Perry faced the popular Democratic controller, John Sharp, and had a much tougher time. The Bush and Perry teams squabbled over polling, voter targeting and the hard-edged tone of Perry's campaign.
Bush won by 1.4 million votes, Perry by fewer than 70,000. There were harsh words afterward; Rove and Dave Carney, a top Perry strategist, now are bitter foes.
Perry took over as governor when Bush resigned to become president. (Perry did nothing to improve relations by hastening the Bush family's exit from their living quarters.) Both men hewed to the tenets of Texas Republicanism: low taxes, small government, limited regulation and frugality when it came to social service.
But Bush prided himself on his ability to work with Democrats who, at the time, ran the Legislature. Perry took a much more partisan approach — though he enjoyed solid GOP majorities that Bush lacked.
Bush also showed a greater willingness to spend on programs, especially education, with potential long-term benefits. Perry, by contrast, has cut billions from public education to help balance the state budget.
The governor has little use for the philosophy Bush dubbed "compassionate conservatism." At a recent foray to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, he told a cheering crowd that conservatives should "stand up" and "stop apologizing" for their beliefs.
Perry long has been a favorite of Christian conservatives, embracing their issues with a zeal Bush lacked. The governor in June declared Aug. 6 "a day of prayer and fasting for our nation's challenges" and invited fellow governors to Houston for an all-day event. He called for prayers for rain in April after drought led to wildfires that have scorched more than 3.2 million acres and destroyed at least 400 homes.
Perry also has strong tea-party support; he was at a local rally in 2009 when he broached the prospect of seceding from the union, a statement he later disavowed.
More recently, Perry used an emergency session of the Legislature to push for tighter restrictions on abortion and legislation to criminalize aggressive airport searches. The pat-down bill died Wednesday in the state Senate.
To backers, Perry's move demonstrated a fealty to fundamental principles, not least reining in the federal government. To critics, including some in the Bush camp, it was another case of showmanship triumphing over substance.
For all that, however, Carney said accounts of a Bush-Perry spat are overblown.
"They're different people, bringing different experiences and philosophies to the process," Carney said. "But they're not at odds. That's a silly, overblown urban myth that's developed a life of its own."
Yet, last year's gubernatorial contest was telling. Perry was bidding for an unprecedented third term. His primary opponent was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Rove served as her adviser, along with other Bush loyalists. Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former Vice President Dick Cheney endorsed Hutchison. (George W. Bush stayed neutral.) Even so, Perry came from far behind and beat Hutchison overwhelmingly.
Carney insists there are no hard feelings. If Perry decides to run for president, Carney said, the governor will not focus on his Republican rivals or his predecessor.
"Obama is the person we're trying to defeat," Carney said. "That's what Republicans are looking for."
Information from Bloomberg News is included in this report.
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