It was the moment in last night's GOP debate that many people thought was Texas Governor Rick Perry at his weirdest. The topic was Yucca Mountain in Nevada, both a local and a national issue. In the midst of a bloody battle (metaphorically speaking) between Perry, Mitt Romney, and occasionally Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, there was a rare detente between Perry and Romney (that isn't the "weird" part). It actually started when Romney had a detente moment with Ron Paul on the issue, which seemed to then lead directly into Perry agreeing with the both of them.
A little background, for those who don't know. The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was supposed to be an environmentally safe place to dump nuclear waste, as opposed to, say, the ocean, or a populated area. But there's been so much pushback from Nevadans and environmentalists that the whole project has pretty much been abandoned entirely. At the debate last night, the candidates were asked about their views on the controversy. Ron Paul, no stranger to controversy, sees it primarily as a states' rights issue. "What right," he asks, "does 49 states have ... to say 'we're gonna put our garbage in your state'?" Romney agreed, and even took it a bit further by proposing, in situations like these, that all states might make bids and offers to take the waste in return for suitable "compensation" from the companies that produce the waste; a market-driven solution to the problem, in other words.
Rick Perry was next, and he agreed with both Paul and Romney. But, whether he didn't feel he could just say "I agree with both of them" without offering something new, or the wheels in his head started turning just a little faster than his lips could follow, his answer was ... more than a little mystifying, to put it politely. He didn't have much time to speak, and he knew it, so it's possible the twists and turns in his answer were probably just efforts to inject as much information into the answer as possible. But then, the Shatneresque pauses ate up more time from his answer than his near-constant interruptions earlier in the evening took from some of Romney's answers.
Watching the answer again, though, you can tell, whatever else may be going on in his head, confusion isn't part of it. He knows what he's talking about. It's why, in the previous debate, he tried to pivot everything to energy. It's why his jobs bill focuses so much on the issue. Energy equals Texas. Perry's had certain advantages that have helped him create jobs over the last decade, what Romney once described as "four aces": conservative legislature, conservative courts, no income tax, and conservative labor laws. Throw in the wild card: "a lot of oil". While Perry hasn't been able to convince others that he could bring the four aces to the rest of the country, he has pointed out, correctly, that energy is a card that nearly the whole country has been dealt.
Perry just had a little trouble articulating it during the debate. I think it was one of those "unscripted moments". He went off-script a little bit, which usually involves him saying something that makes me nostalgic for George W. Bush. This time, though, I think it was due to his overenthusiasm for the topic. I've seen it before in presidential debates. In 2007, both Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Tom Tancredo of Colorado exhibited similar behavior, though perhaps a bit more practiced than Perry's. The difference? They knew they were single-issue candidates; Perry doesn't. I don't think his problem is a lack of polish or focus, but rather that he's been pulled off what his focus should be: energy. I think Rick Perry is a single-issue candidate.
I've heard it said that Perry could be a good Energy Secretary. Maybe that's true, but I tend to dismiss talk like that after watching the debates, for two reasons: one, it becomes increasingly evident through the debates that Romney will be the nominee; and two, the antipathy between Romney and Perry would make seeing them working together something to which you could probably sell tickets. This is a feud that rivals the Romney-Huckabee dust-up of '08. But watch the video below and see the anger and enmity clearly evident at the beginning of the clip just melt from Perry's face at thoughts of ... France. They might just be able (and willing) to put hard feelings aside to work together on this.
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