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Criticism From Bush Crowd Could Help Perry

Criticism From Bush Crowd Could Help Perry

By Erin McPike - August 18, 2011


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Former aides to President Bush have taken to the airwaves to admonish Rick Perry for his comment that Texans would treat Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke “ugly” for printing more money in the next year -- but criticism from those sources might be music to Perry’s ears.

Democrats hope to paint Perry as the second coming of George W. Bush, whose approval ratings were abysmal when he left office. At the same time, Perry is already trying to distinguish himself from his predecessor as Texas governor, and the Bush circle’s commentary might help him do just that.

Within a day of Perry’s comment about Bernanke, Bush’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, appeared on Fox News and called the remark “unfortunate.”

“You don't accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country and being guilty of treason and suggesting that we treat him pretty ugly in Texas -- that's not, again, a presidential statement,” Rove said.

Tony Fratto, a highly respected former Bush official, took to Twitter to say much the same thing. And Fratto and Rove weren’t alone; plenty of establishment Republicans with ties to the Bush White House echoed those sentiments privately.

There’s just one problem: It doesn’t appear as though the GOP establishment has learned much about the Tea Party, an amorphous group of movement conservatives who don’t like being told how to think by the establishment.

Witness this comment on Twitter by Dana Loesch, a high-profile Tea Party activist who often appears on CNN: “I will lose respect for [the] Perry campaign if they walk back the Bernanke remarks one inch.” They didn’t; Perry’s aides said simply that he is passionate about fiscal issues.

What’s more, Tea Partiers have said repeatedly that they were nearly as turned off by President Bush and his administration several years ago as they are by Democrats in charge of Washington today. If “the Bushies” are already attacking Perry, it may help separate the new candidate further from the 43rd president and lend him more credibility with conservatives.

A former strategist for Mitt Romney who is close to Bush’s circle suggested that the Bush crowd is nervous about how the former president’s legacy will be treated publicly with a surging Perry in the race. The strategist said the Bush team ought to relax, agreeing that their criticism will only elevate Perry and win him more attention.

It’s easy to see why the Bush team is concerned. In 2007, Perry said that Bush was never a fiscal conservative, and today, he touts himself as the ultimate fiscal conservative.

What’s more, the Perry campaign is not missing an opportunity to distinguish their candidate from Bush in other ways. Perry's wife, Anita, said this at an event in Cedar Rapids on Monday: “A woman asked me today at the fair, she said, ‘Tell me the difference between him and George W. Bush. They’re both Texans.’ And she said, ‘Do you think Rick would be as good a president as President Bush?’ And I said, ‘Well ma’am, he would be better. He’s my husband.’ ”

And Perry himself told CNN that he had a markedly different upbringing than Bush did, which helped define him. “He’s a Yale graduate; I’m a Texas A&M grad,” Perry said Monday.

The Texas governor’s top advisers have long maintained that there is no feud with Bush, or they chalk it up to staff rivalries. Perry's chief of staff, Ray Sullivan, said to RCP: “The Bush issue is exaggerated in my view. The governor and president have a good relationship. A number of our senior staff worked for George W. Bush.”

But, he continued, “President Bush is not running for reelection. President Obama is. Governor Perry is running to defeat President Obama.” 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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