Texas Governor Rick Perry came to Washington last week and I had a chance to hear him talk for about an hour on a wide range of issues before a small number of journalists. Perry is engaged in a tough primary battle against Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has much of the Texas Republican establishment behind her -- including Karen Hughes -- and who may even have a slight lead in the race if the latest Rasmussen numbers are to be believed. Perry, however, said he was "still skeptical" that Hutchison would actually run -- she has declared her intention to run only to drop out at the last minute once before. Still, this time is different. Hutchison has already assembled a very capable campaign team and begun campaigning in earnest. She is not going to drop out.
One advantage Perry does seem to have in the race is his outside-the-beltway charm -- the Texas governor showed up in boots that read "Come and Take It." One Republican operative told me that Perry's strategy was simple: "He's going to out-Texas her." After an hour in the room with Perry, that strikes me as quite possible. In a town overrun by politically correct Democrats, an hour with Perry made me wistful for the better days of the Bush administration.
Perry dismissed outright any suggestion that he was interested in running for President in 2012. "I have no interest in coming to Washington," he said. But Perry did not hesitate to engage on national issues. I teed Perry up on the administration's Israel policy, inviting him to take a whack at the president. He did not disappoint. Perry started by saying "My faith requires me to support Israel." He went on to talk about how impressed he was with the IDF pilots he trained with during his time in the Air Force. And contrasting the demands Obama has made on Israel while saying relatively little about Palestinian terrorism, Perry said the Obama administration is "out of tune with America" on the question of support for Israel.
I also asked Perry about his relationship with Citgo, Venezuela's state-controlled oil firm, which Perry induced to relocate its U.S. headquarters from Oklahoma to Texas. Here, Perry stumbled a little bit. "Dictators come and dictators go," Perry said, but "Citgo will be around long after Chavez is gone." Eh... Perry has brought jobs to Texas through his courtship of Citgo, but that kind of sentiment doesn't exude the kind of fundamental antagonism for anti-democratic regimes that Republicans tend to like in their politicians. If Perry's relationship with Citgo props up Chavez for a minute longer than he might otherwise stay in power, was it worth a few thousand jobs?
Still, the most interesting moment in the session came in an exchange with the Politico's Jonathan Martin. This spring, Perry appeared at a Tea Party protest and when someone in the crowd shouted "secession," Perry responded, "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
Democrats were outraged, Republicans mostly amused. Indeed, Texas has a unique history, which Perry emphasized repeatedly in order to provide context to his remark. But the bottom line is that folks in Washington just aren't used to hearing that kind of talk. Martin pressed the governor on the issue:
JONATHAN MARTIN: Aren't you just playing to the base of your party by doing that?
RICK PERRY: No. I don't think that you can find brilliant constitutional lawyers that definitively can say "Can a state leave this union or not?" Are you trying to tell me that things can't get so crappy that Maryland might say "we've had enough." I hope you don't say that. Because then you're saying, "You know what, Maryland? We don't give a damn what you think or what you want; you're part of this, and you can't get out of it." When I get married, I said I was gonna stay with my wife until death do us part. That's what I intend to do. I don't know whether that's a good analogy or not, but, uh, may be a little rocky, but in my opinion, it's not. I mean, we joined the union, and look, again, I'll leave it toâ€¦I'm not a lawyer. I'm an animal science major. Constitutional law probably has some differing opinions on that issue. But, again, you guys that wanna go, you know, burrow down into that rather than finding solutions to healthcare, finding solutions to energy policy, I mean, I understand it's interesting stuff to write about, but I do think it's a bit, um, off the path that most people are interested in discussing.
I suspect not a lot of Republicans are terribly concerned about how Obama's out of control spending looks from Bethesda or Rockville town center. Still, it was an amusing exchange, and it fits well with Perry's strategy. As the governor said, "I'm going to run against Washington until Washington changes." Or Texas secedes?