Perry: GOP savior or Goldwater II?
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestions that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's monetary policies are "treasonous" might be just a rhetorical speed bump on his road to the White House.
The tough-talking Texas governor is likely to be far more careful about what he says and how he says it – especially after the message delivered via a POLITICO story on Friday ("Perry's loose lips worry Hill Republicans").
"This is a very critical period for Perry," Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole told reporters Jonathan Martin and Jake Sherman. "He's got to prove he won't self-destruct."
However, Perry's controversial statements – about Texas secession, the unconstitutionality of Social Security, his refusal to acknowledge climate change, his comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, his doubts about evolution and his questioning of President Barack Obama's patriotism — may have already inflicted grave damage and, perhaps, destroyed his chance to become president.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who has made similar jarring statements in the past few years, may also be waging a hopeless campaign for president.
Could it be possible that a candidate's statements made months or years before the presidential election can render someone virtually unelectable — even if that person wins a major-party nomination? Have Perry and Bachman already suffered serious self-inflicted wounds?
It's likely, for example, that Sen. George McGovern never had a chance against President Richard M. Nixon in 1972. Not because of specific statements, but rather due to McGovern's liberalism and his perceived intimacy with the radical antiwar movement. Walter Mondale's statements about coming tax increases in 1984 may have similarly destroyed any chance of defeating President Ronald Reagan.
But it's Sen. Barry M. Goldwater's 1964 Republican presidential campaign that may be more instructive for Perry, Bachmann — and the GOP primary voters who value winning the White House over ideological purity.
Well before the conservative Arizona senator captured the nomination in July 1964, he made a habit of uttering reckless and ill-considered comments that gradually cemented an image of Goldwater as an impulsive cowboy, at best; and a dangerous radical, at worst.
That is the same danger facing Perry (and, to a lesser degree, Bachmann) today.
In the wake of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a majority of Americans considered nuclear war a very real prospect. Steady, sober and wise U.S. leadership by President John F. Kennedy had saved the world. Goldwater, at least in his public comments, seemed oblivious to that fact.
After the missile crisis, in April 1963, Goldwater was in full cowboy mode, chiding Kennedy for his unwillingness to challenge the Soviets over Cuba. "The question is," Goldwater said, "are we afraid to go to war. If we are not willing to take risks in this world, we might as well give up."
The following month, Goldwater bragged about the accuracy of U.S. nuclear missiles, and launched an indirect attack on Kennedy's proposal for a manned moon mission: "I don't want to hit the moon," Goldwater said, "I want to lob one [presumably a nuclear missile] into the men's room of the Kremlin and make sure I hit it."
Goldwater also talked about using low-yield nuclear weapons to defoliate the forests of Vietnam, and giving North Atlantic Treaty Organization commanders in the field the authority to use nuclear weapons without prior presidential approval.
Reckless talk about nuclear war was only the down payment on the rhetorical gifts Goldwater bestowed on his opposition. He suggested ending Social Security and public education, selling the Tennessee Valley Authority and, jokingly, "saw[ing] off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea."
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Perry: GOP savior or Goldwater II?