Rick Perry’s best asset as a political campaigner is his common-man charm. One-on-one, he comes across as a sincere, down-to-earth guy who is in close touch with what real people want.
He has successfully led the nation’s second most-populous state for more than 13 years, but he still has a lot of West Texas dust on his boots.
He’s polishing his image for another run for president, adding some dark-rimmed glasses and even getting rid of the boots (he said they aggravated problems with his back). But he still turns on the charm for just about any occasion.
One of the things that works best for him in front of a crowd is patriotism. And lately, he has had a lot of success by playing up his long-held views as a border hawk.
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To the heavy glasses and no boots, add the cape of a superhero, protecting the nation from evils that flow north from the Rio Grande.
Perry was grateful patriot, decisive leader/protector and earthy charmer rolled into one on Wednesday at the Camp Swift Army National Guard training facility in Bastrop, where some of the 1,000 National Guard troops he’s sending to the border are getting ready to deploy.
In a pep talk to the troops, he delivered a familiar anti-Washington message with emphasis on the threat of unchecked border crossings.
“Washington’s continued neglect of our southern border is allowing some very aggressive criminals to use that border to penetrate our state,” the governor said.
He described it as a threat not just to Texas but every state in the nation.
“I think it’s time that we stopped calling these criminals nice names like cartels and gangs and start calling time what they are,” he said. “These are narco-terrorists, because they are terrorizing America. What’s at stake are the lives of innocent people on both sides of the border and the safety and well-being of communities all across this country.”
His call for 1,000 troops brought 2,200 volunteers. “What did you expect,” he said, “this is Texas.”
The charm line brought a quick military “hooah” cheer.
Exactly what the troops will be doing on the border has never been clear, but he addressed the issue.
“You now are the tip of the spear, protecting Americans from these cartels and gangs,” the governor said. “As they are able to get past you, they could be headed to any city, any neighborhood in this country. They’re spreading their tentacles of crime and fear.”
“Tip of the spear” has a real ring to it, except we know that National Guard leaders have not asked for and have not been given arrest powers for the troops. They’ll be armed, but only for self-defense.
Perry said the role is “to contribute those additional eyes and ears to assist law enforcement and Border Patrol agents along the border.”
The call-up is open-ended, “until the federal government can and will do its constitutional duty … until the people of this country and the people of the state of Texas are satisfied that the border is secure and that their communities are secure.”
Perry’s problem has always been that being the charming, people’s hero type can only get him so far. He also has to appear to be smart, and he still has work to do.
Three weeks ago, in announcing the National Guard deployment, his office said he was taking the step after President Barack Obama failed to respond to the governor’s request for a similar federal call-up “to temporarily support border security operations until 3,000 additional Border Patrol personnel can be trained and deployed.”
Wednesday, the message was different: “We’ve got enough Border Patrol. They’re just in the wrong place.”
Folksy, but inconsistent. Oops.