Rick Perry has embarked on a series of campaign moves that some see as a grasping-at-straws attempt to save his struggling presidential campaign.
In recent days, he’s called for a part-time citizen legislature, challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to debate him on the issue, run ads wherein he describes President Obama’s policies as “socialist” and called on any lawmaker who commits insider trading to be put in prison.
The changing tactics show the Texas governor knows he needs to do something drastic to change the trajectory of his campaign and, according to Republican strategists, will try anything to do so.
“It’s ‘let’s throw everything against the wall, see if it can possibly stick,’ ” said Republican strategist Tyler Harber, who has not endorsed a candidate in the GOP presidential race. “This is not something a front-runner would do, and anyone looking at this race would say Perry is far from front-runner status … It is a gimmick, but creating conflict creates news, and sometimes that’s what you need to cut through the chatter.”
Perry’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
But his more aggressive posture coincides with a crash in support — Perry is now fourth in most national polls — and comes amid reports that Perry’s once-impressive fundraising stream is drying up.
Perry’s poll numbers started to plummet after a series of weak debate performances, but he was really hurt by last week’s debate blunder, when he forgot the name of the third federal department he wanted to eliminate, only to remember it later.
It was an “oops” heard around the political world and got thousands of viewings on YouTube.
His campaign has been in recovery mode ever since.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist who backs Perry, said the move to a more aggressive posture is the right choice now that the governor is no longer a top-tier candidate whose more serious policy proposals can get free media coverage.
“I think they’re trying to pick a fight, get a little bit of attention,” he said. “I think most people, especially in the primary voter universe, will support something like this. I’d bet you they tested this and I suspect it tested well.”
But Mackowiak admitted that Perry’s request that Pelosi debate him was “a Hail Mary, for sure.”
Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, said Perry’s appeals were aimed directly at the populist, anti-government Tea Party base in the early-voting state, but that witty anti-government sound bites have had a short shelf life in this election.
“He’s playing right to that base, and I understand what he’s trying to accomplish,” said Robinson. “But at this point people are looking for serious candidates who can talk like adults.”
Whether or not Perry can turn the tide, what could hurt him the most is fundraising difficulties.
Perry’s biggest asset at this point is money: He had $15 million in the bank after the last fundraising quarter, more than any other candidate besides former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
But money follows momentum, and a series of weak debates, flubs and gaffes have stopped his mojo short.
The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that Perry’s fundraising is drying up.
One major fundraiser predicted to the paper that Perry would bring in between $3 million and $5 million for this quarter, a major drop-off from the previous quarter and a sum that could make it difficult for Perry, who has been spending heavily on television and a national field operation, to keep up the fast pace of spending he has so far followed.
He also got into it with the House Democratic leader on Thursday, an unusual move for a candidate running for president.
Perry earlier this week called for Congress’s pay to be cut in half and have a “part-time citizen Congress” where legislators spend less time working on laws in Washington. After House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) criticized Perry’s plan as “pandering to the Tea Party,” Perry hit back and called on Pelosi to say whether she agreed with Hoyer — and asked if she would debate him.
Pelosi’s response poked fun at Perry’s debate struggles: “He did ask if I could debate here in Washington on Monday — it is my understanding that such a letter has come in,” she said. “Monday, I’m going to be in Portland in the morning, visiting some of our labs in California in the afternoon. That’s two … I can’t remember what the third thing is.”
Pelosi also tweeted her remark and Perry tweeted back, writing: “Something @NancyPelosi would like to forget: passing a 2k-page gov takeover of healthcare without reading it. American ppl haven’t forgotten.”
But his response didn’t get the same amount of attention that her quip did, underlining the attention problem facing his campaign.
Harber said that Perry’s strategy could backfire, but pointed out the Texas governor has little to lose at this point.
“I think what you’re seeing is a campaign full of new leadership trying to get a handle on the national story, and the problem for them is that ship has sailed,” he said. “They’re going to be hard-pressed to convince a lot of those voters who were supporting Perry initially to come back on board.”