If at first you don’t secede, try the birther movement.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who more than once has dipped his cowboy boot into the secessionist swamp, has found a new outlet for his fringe instincts. The Republican presidential candidate has revived questions about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
The controversy pretty much died in the spring when Obama, hounded by “carnival barker” Donald Trump, released his long-form birth certificate confirming his birth in the United States and therefore his eligibility for the presidency. But Perry, in an interview in last Sunday’s Parade magazine, showed that he marches to a different drummer:
Q. Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
A. I have no reason to think otherwise.
Q. That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he …”
A. Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.
Q. But you’ve seen his.
A. I don’t know. Have I?
Q. You don’t believe what’s been released?
A. I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.
A. That came up.
Q. And he said?
A. He doesn’t think it’s real.
Q. And you said?
A. I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.
Actually, it’s more of a destructive issue. But it has become distractive again thanks to its revival by one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
Perry knows something about distractive issues. A couple of years ago when asked about the possibility of secession, he allowed that while breaking up the union is unnecessary, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”
When the Parade interviewer asked him about when he “hinted at the possibility of Texas seceding,” Perry replied: “Actually, I didn’t. Let’s not misrepresent it.”
The interviewer invited Perry’s comments on other issues that make him look presidential, such as his lethal force used against a coyote that was menacing his daughter’s puppy (“one shot right in the shoulder”) and why this was necessary (“Come to Austin. I’ll show you coyotes that will come and get in your backyard and eat your little puppy”).
The retelling of such stories, and the emergence of some new ones (such as the racist name long attached to the Perry ranch) have made for an unpleasant couple of months for Perry on the campaign trail. Add to that his debate performances, which have ranged from somnolent to belligerent, and you can understand why Perry’s status as the front-runner was so abbreviated. The candidate’s wife says he has been “ brutalized and beaten up” because he is a Christian. But might it have something to do with the un-Christian things coming from her husband’s mouth?
Other candidates have said wilder things, to be sure. In a speech over the weekend, Michele Bachmann called for abolishing the energy, interior and commerce departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and the tax code. She might have abolished more, but was given the hook. “Is that it?” she asked. “Is that it? OK.” In a bit of unintended symbolism, the speech was given in a building called the Knapp Animal Learning Center.
But political professionals expect more from a mainstream candidate such as Perry. After Perry’s birther Parade, strategist Karl Rove lectured his one-time friend Monday in a Fox News appearance.
“You associate yourself with a nutty view like that and you damage yourself,” Rove said.
Rove added that the pandering to Trump “starts to marginalize you in the minds of some of the people whom you need in order to get the election.”
Good advice, but Perry won’t follow it. Whether it’s secessionism or birtherism, he seems determined to prove that nothing succeeds like excess.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.