Rick Perry, the Bushes and the Texas Century

Politics is much like the classic Japanese bunraku puppet theater in which almost life-size puppets are guided through their drama by operators walking behind like ghosts, draped loosely in black sheets. It gives the impression that what you see in the passion and action of puppets on the stage is all the work of manipulators hiding in the shadows. Which in politics, it is. So it was interesting this week when one such shadow-master revealed himself.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Ed Rogers asks, "Does Texas Gov. Rick Perry deserve another look from Republican know-it-alls? Speaking as something of a know-it-all, I think so."

ADVERTISEMENT
"Many people were first exposed to Perry when he assumed the governorship in December 2000, after George W. Bush was elected president," Rogers continues. "For whatever reason, Bush loyalists in Washington viciously belittled Perry. The antipathy the Bush crowd had for Perry in 2001 cannot be understated."

You got that right. And when Perry ran in the Texas governor's primary later in the decade, the entire Bush family lineup kicked into gear to drive him out. They choose as their champion Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). Kay Bailey Hutchison? What did they see there, a future President Coolidge? Possibly a rising Vice President Biden.

"I deferred to my Bush allies and piled on the criticism of Perry whenever I could. I still see the occasional quote or TV clip from him that makes my eyes roll and reinforces my bias," writes Rogers.

What was going on with that? What was at stake? The fate of the Republican Party rested within this riddle, I wrote here in The Hill's Pundits Blog in 2008. More than that. The fate of Texas and America was at stake: "Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in Texas. Could be that something will happen in Texas to make us different kinds of individuals in the world and a different kind of country. Something from which there will be no turning back. Could be that destiny awaits us in Texas."

But we, back east here, having brought Texas into federation by military conquest, were not quite ready. A fifth-generation rancher from Paint Creek brought a shudder, apparently even to Wall Street and Republicans. We prefered old New England families in cowboy boots.

So what happened? What does Ed Rogers's strategic, public confession imply in this American "Game of Thrones"?

It suggests that at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Perry turned the corner. Designated Bush surrogate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), to whom they could guarantee boatloads of New York cash and influence for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) in the vice presidential slot in 2016, barely registered. The phony Tony Soprano persona had lost its cache. More than that, the entire CPAC conference — the petri dish for the future of conservatism — had turned west and to Perry.

Said here recently that in a few months the Democrats will throw former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton under the bus. There are far better candidates out there, like Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. My first choice: Jim Webb, former Democratic senator from Virginia, war hero, novelist, historian and former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Conservatives have an even greater tendency to nostalgia and dynasty, which at its root brings the decadent and destructive descent to monarchy. But as goes Hillary into the night, so Jeb will follow. Rogers's timely apologia suggests he already has. 

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.